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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Western Stars is a concert film featuring Bruce Springsteen performing the entirety of his same-named 2019 album. It's aching, introspective, and intimate, evoking the American West but also the human condition, and it's a must-see for tween music fans and up. Expect frequent depictions and descriptions of drinking. Characters drink socially in bars and sometimes alone in song lyrics; the drinks range from beer to tequila, whiskey, and gin. Kissing and smoking are shown in vintage footage, Viagra is mentioned, and a song lyric references "pills." Another song lyric mentions being "shot by John Wayne," and Springsteen describes his "destructive" past in which he would "hurt people," though apparently emotionally rather than physically. Language includes a use of "bulls--t" and a use of "damn."
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What's the story?
In WESTERN STARS, musician Bruce Springsteen assembles a 30-piece orchestra, along with his backing band and backup singers, in the century-old barn on his property in northern New Jersey. In front of a small audience, they perform the 13 songs from Springsteen's 2019 album Western Stars, plus an encore. In between numbers, Springsteen tells stories of how each song -- based in memories, hurt, reflection, and perseverance -- came to be.
Is it any good?
At age 70, Springsteen forgoes his more typical, invigorating concert experience for an intimate, reflective live show; it's achingly beautiful, tender, and personal, with strains of regret and hope. Marking Springsteen's directorial debut alongside Thom Zimny, Western Stars could rank with the best concert films ever made, with its combination of wonderful songs and touching orchestration and Springsteen's confessional asides. The songs are surprisingly moving; they're great stories of everyday Americans, but -- rather than having the heart-pumping energy of Springsteen's early work -- these songs are wistful and quiet, looking back to find a way to look forward. It's possibly one of the best collections in the singer's career.
In the interludes, Springsteen talks about the songs (he says he doesn't know why he keeps writing songs about cars) and about the characters in the songs -- such as an old cowboy actor -- and how they're based on his own feelings and discoveries. He talks about his former destructive behaviors and how he's worked to put them behind him. He talks about how everyone has "broken pieces," and how, maybe, we might find someone whose broken pieces fit with our own. Western Stars evokes cowboy imagery, certainly, but it's also romantic and philosophical. Springsteen seems to understand the human condition, and, after spending this time with him, we feel a little bit of peace.
Talk to your kids about ...
What does Springsteen mean when he talks about his "destructive" days? How did he address this situation?
Why, as Springsteen says, is it so hard for humans to trust and love and so easy for them to embrace pain?
Are the subjects that Springsteen sings and talks about at age 70 applicable to younger people? Why or why not?
How do concert films compare with live concerts? Which other concert films have you seen?
- In theaters: October 25, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: December 19, 2019
- Cast: Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa
- Directors: Bruce Springsteen, Thom Zimny
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 83 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements, alcohol and smoking images, and brief language
- Last updated: December 16, 2019
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