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White Boy Rick
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that White Boy Rick tells the true story of Rick Wershe Jr. (Richie Merritt), who worked for the FBI in the 1980s in Detroit pretending to buy and sell drugs -- and later began selling for real. Violence is frequent and strong, with lots of guns, shooting, characters being shot and killed, blood spurts, and kids carrying guns, and a man bashing another man's face with a bottle. Drugs are also prevalent; they're shown being made, bought, sold, and used. A woman has a painful detox, and a crack den is shown. Social drinking and smoking are also seen. Language is extreme, with constant use of "f--k," "s--t," the "N" word, and more. The teen main character kisses a girl and gets her pregnant (she's shown later, after the child is born); he also kisses an older woman. Women are ogled at dance clubs, and a woman is shown partially topless. Despite some sympathetic characters and a strong family dynamic, the movie is depressing and doesn't seem to know what to say. Matthew McConaughey and Bel Powley co-star.
What's the story?
In WHITE BOY RICK, Ricky Wershe Jr. (Richie Merritt) is a teen in the 1980s living in destitute Detroit with his father, Richard Sr. (Matthew McConaughey), his sister, Dawn (Bel Powley), and his grandparents (Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie). Ricky's dad buys guns at gun shows, fits them with homemade silencers, and sells them for a profit. Ricky joins the business, selling AK-47s to a local gang, the Currys, making friends with them and earning their trust. When the FBI cracks down on his father, Ricky agrees to act as a drug buyer, then as a drug seller, for them. When the Currys find out, trouble comes knocking. Ricky then convinces his dad that they need to get into the drug business for real to make ends meet and save their family. But there's a price to pay.
Is it any good?
This gritty biopic starts well, with fine casting and performances and vivid emotional bonds, but it eventually becomes a stern cautionary tale and sinks into a downbeat, hopeless final act. Directed by Yann Demange ('71), White Boy Rick re-creates a blown-out Detroit landscape, where the perpetual cold, drizzly weather only highlights the graffiti-covered ruins. By comparison, the local roller-skate club, with its throbbing lights and music, feels like paradise. The movie's cast seems to fit right in (especially newcomer Merritt), feeling authentic and home-grown rather than made-up. Even frequent sex symbol McConaughey looks authentically wretched in his greasy mullet and sleazy mustache.
Aside from a few movie-ish conventions (montages, musical needle drops, etc.), the movie surges on its immersive human connections, even between Ricky and the FBI agents (well played by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane). It also manages a striking visual or two (e.g., Rick carrying a large stuffed duck he found on the sidewalk). The filmmakers decide to stick too close to the real, harrowing story, but they can't seem to find anything to say about it other than "Isn't this terrible?" White Boy Rick can't decide whether it wants to be about the characters or the broken system, and both sides of the story suffer for it.
Talk to your kids about ...
How does the movie handle violence? Is it used for thrills or for shock? How does the movie achieve this effect?
How are guns depicted? Are they shown in a positive or negative light?
What do you think the movie is trying to say? Did Rick have other options?
Does the movie objectify women? If so, is this a result of the time, the place, or the storytelling? How could women have had a stronger role in this story?
- In theaters: September 14, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: December 25, 2018
- Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Bel Powley, Richie Merritt
- Director: Yann Demange
- Studio: Columbia Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 111 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language throughout, drug content, violence, some sexual references, and brief nudity
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.