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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that My Brilliant Friend is an adaptation of a book series known as the "Neapolitan Novels" that follows a pair of young girls growing up in Italy. The show is Italian-language, with subtitles (but no English track) available; expect (translated) cursing such as "s--t," "f--king," "ass," "slut," "bitch," "son of a bitch," "a--hole." Violence is realistic and often contains elements of sexual competitiveness and/or class conflict: two women fight over the affections of a man until one falls down a set of stairs, a man "ruined" by taking money from a loan shark is badly beaten after insulting that man, a boy slaps a girl for defeating his brother at an academic competition. Adults hit and slap children, including a teacher who drags a student by his ear and calls him a "dunce" and "donkey" in front of other students. Sexual content is light in early episodes, but teen and adult characters fall in love and have sex, including an incident in which a young woman first has sex with the father of a schoolmate. Characters smoke cigarettes and adults drink liquor in some scenes. Expect strong themes about friendship, class, sexism, and the way that societal and parental expectations can limit someone's potential.
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What's the story?
Based on the beloved book series the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, MY BRILLIANT FRIEND tells the story of Elena (played by Elisa Del Genio as a child and Margherita Mazzucco as a teen) and Lila (played by Ludovica Nasti and then Gaia Girace), two girls growing up in Naples. The books follow Elena and Lila from childhood through old age as they fashion lives for themselves against the backdrop of a rapidly transforming small town -- and the changing roles and expectations of women in their times.
Is it any good?
Beautiful, subtle, and borrowing both its structure and pace from the deeply loved book series, this slow burn of a drama will please already-converted Ferrante fans and newbies alike. Antsy viewers who like everything spelled out for them may complain that things don't move along quickly enough -- a scene in the series' pilot in which Lila and a group of bully boys throw rocks at each other is a perfect example. The boys throw a rock, pause, Lila throws it back. The boys throw a rock, pause, Lila throws it back. And repeat, as the camera holds the two groups with its unblinking stare. Why are we watching these kids throw rocks back and forth for minutes at a time? Because the payoff, in which Elena transforms from an interested watcher of Lila to a faithful friend willing to protect her, is simply beautiful -- and made even more so by the true-to-life pacing.
It is a bit hard to distinguish who's who in the large cast, particularly since the show isn't really about peripheral characters but instead about Lila and Elena's impression of and reactions to them. And those who dislike reading subtitles will be disappointed to learn that there's no dubbed English track. But these small issues fade away as viewers fall under the spell of a naturalistic and epic drama set in a gorgeous place in another time, spooling out the twists and turns of the lives of two girls who feel real and immediate. My Brilliant Friend feels less like a TV show and more like an actual place, a place a certain type of viewer will want to visit, and linger.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why books are frequently adapted for the movies or TV. Which version do you usually prefer? Does it enhance your enjoyment to have read the book first? Have you read the book series My Brilliant Friend is based on? Did it make you like the show more or less?
Movies and TV shows set in other countries but made for an American audience are frequently in English. Why? Is it hard to understand subtitled shows or movies? Do you prefer subtitles or dubbed English? Is it more realistic to use the language of the place the show is set?
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