A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this farcical romp through the Book of Genesis -- which was originally rated R but got edited down to an edgy PG-13 -- is full of slapstick violence, crude sexual material, strong language (including "f--k"), and stereotypes. Since it stars Jack Black and Michael Cera, it's pretty clear that this isn't The Flintstones: There's lots of gross-out humor (bear feces are viewed up close, an obese hairy man gets an oil massage, a eunuch carries his removed testicles around in a small pouch, etc., etc.) and some fairly pointed mocking of the ideas and concepts of the Old Testament. Whether that adds up to ribald fun or offensive insults will depend on your perceptions.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In prehistoric times, hunter Zed (Jack Black) and gatherer Oh (Michael Cera) are having a tough time of it. They aren't good at their jobs, everyone in their village hates them, and life is generally nasty, brutish, and short. Exiled after Zed eats from the forbidden tree of knowledge, the two take a tour through the Book of Genesis, meeting Cain and Abel, Abraham and Issac, and even Adam (director Harold Ramis, in a nice cameo). Arriving at the ancient city of Sodom, the two get caught up in palace intrigue and must find a way to escape with their lives -- while saving the villagers who hate them from slavery and death.
Is it any good?
Director Ramis (Groundhog Day) may be a comedy titan, but YEAR ONE feels both slapdash and slow -- as if the film felt like it could spread out the few jokes it had by dawdling between scenes. Black and Cera are both funny insofar as they do what they normally do -- Black is wild and wacky, Cera reserved and repressed -- but the movie doesn't ask them to do much more, and the supporting players (including David Cross, Hank Azaria, Paul Rudd, and Oliver Platt) consistently steal scenes out from under the stars.
Perhaps the original, R-rated cut of Year One was funnier, but that seems unlikely; some scenes have such weak transitions that you find yourself confused by how characters got from one to the other -- and wondering what went missing in between. The plodding pace doesn't help, either -- the movie feels padded and slow and bogs down unforgivably in too many places. Year One has gags and costumes galore, but it doesn't have the snap that would make it truly funny throughout, instead of scattering a few gags against a backdrop of tedium.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the comedic appeal of putting modern characters and ideas into the ancient world -- is the point to make us laugh at the shortcomings of the past or to encourage us to look at our own era's ideas and assumptions with clearer eyes?
Why do you think the filmmakers chose to go for a PG-13 rating instead of an R? Can you sense where the edges of the film were smoothed down for a PG-13? How different do you think it would have been if it had stayed R?
- In theaters: June 19, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: October 6, 2009
- Cast: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Olivia Wilde
- Director: Harold Ramis
- Studio: Sony Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 97 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: crude and sexual content throughout, brief strong language and comic violence