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Zeroville

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Zeroville Movie Poster Image
Loopy James Franco dramedy has sex, drugs, punk attitude.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 96 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No moral to this story.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lead character isn't really a role model, but he often tries to do right by others.

Violence

Gun pointed at people during a robbery and at a party. Someone is hit over the head in self-defense. A character shatters a window with his fist. In movie clips, Joan of Arc is burned at the stake, a character is stabbed, and the Three Stooges smack each other upside the head. Off-camera suicide of a glamorous character.

Sex

Women are shown topless or partially dressed in lingerie or swimsuits. Sex scenes; none with graphic nudity. Crude talk about actresses giving sexual favors to promote their careers. Prostitute is given as a gift. 

Language

Frequent use of "ass," "f--k," and "s--t." Crude talk about women using vulgar language.

Consumerism

Hollywood types have aspirational homes and lifestyles. A glamorous character drives a Ford Mustang.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Brief instance of smoking pot. Characters smoke cigarettes and cigars. Drinking in social situations and by executives in meetings. A nervous character drinks an entire bottle of tequila for courage.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Zeroville is a dramedy adapted from Steve Erickson's critically acclaimed novel about Hollywood in the 1970s. James Franco both directs and stars as a film fanatic who's intimated to have Asperger's syndrome and is obsessed with the 1951 Elizabeth Taylor-Montgomery Clift romance A Place in the Sun. That's just one of many classic films, actors, and directors referenced, and the movie doubles as a trivia game for the movie-obsessed. Those not in the know -- likely including most teens -- will be less likely to enjoy it. Several scenes show women topless or barely clothed, sometimes in a sexual context. There are (empty) threats with a gun, frequent profanity ("f--k," "s--t," and more), and drug and alcohol abuse, as well as historically accurate smoking. A scene about the murder of actress Sharon Tate comes off in bad taste, and there's a movie clip featuring what appears to be human excrement.

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What's the story?

In ZEROVILLE, it's 1969, and Ike Jerome (James Franco) follows his movie obsession to Los Angeles, where he finds he has a knack for film editing. "Vikar," as he comes to be called, is welcomed by up-and-coming filmmakers who are changing the industry. He meets Soledad (Megan Fox), a starlet who feels inexplicably familiar to him and, through the years, becomes protective of her and her punk rocker daughter, Zazi (Joey King).

Is it any good?

Cinephiles will squeal with joy watching a movie that's chock-full of classic film references, but for everyone else, it's a big WHAAAAAT? Zeroville is a project unapologetically made for film geeks -- the source material is a love letter to the art of film editing -- and Franco's directorial effort is an act of reverence to the filmmakers who came before him. If only he were a better filmmaker himself. Just about everything Steve Erickson did right in his 2007 novel is off in Franco's movie, including his performance as socially inept Vikar

Franco appears to have cast the film right out of his contacts list; his co-stars are all colleagues and friends, including Seth Rogen, Will Ferrell, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride. The problem is, they turn in winky, comically broad supporting performances that don't fit the somber, more authentic portrayals of core characters Vikar, Soledad, and Zazi. It's the first of many directing choices that don't add up, resulting in a product that's heady at best and scattered at worst. When the story follows a fast-rising creative professional who gets hung up on a complicated actress, it's quirky but it works. But when it takes a hard left into fantasy fiction for film historians, general audiences are likely to find the result confusing, corny, or catastrophic. It's disappointing that a story meant to celebrate our relationship with film results in a recommendation to just read the book.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Zeroville portrays Hollywood producers of a bygone era and how they treated actresses. Do you think things have changed?

  • How does the film portray smoking, drinking, and partying in general? Does it glamorize them? Do you think the film connects wealth and success to substance abuse?

  • Do you think the film glamorizes suicide? Do you think the early deaths of icons like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Sharon Tate romanticize dying young?

  • What do you think the film is trying to say? 

  • How does Vikar's curiosity set him on a journey? In what ways does he achieve his quest for knowledge? 

Movie details

For kids who love mysteries

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