Grown-Up Movies for Kids: Yentl

A few weeks back, The Girl said the phrase “tomorrow night” just before bedtime, and because my brain is full of every song from every musical I’ve ever seen, I started singing “Tomorrow night, tomorrow night, under the canopy I’ll stand with her all dressed in white…” and The Girl said “No, don’t sing that.” So then I started singing “Papa Can You Hear Me.” Which was a horribly dumb idea, because then The Girl was like “Why is her dad in heaven, how did he die, did he get stepped on by a dinosaur, is my dad going to get stepped on by a dinosaur?!?!” So I assured her that no, he didn’t get stepped on by a dinosaur, he was just very old, and I promised to let her watch the movie so she could see there were no dinosaurs in it.

Now, plenty of haters gonna hate on Yentl because it’s cool to make fun of Barbra Streisand. I get it, she’s your mom’s favorite, because you’re Gen X or a millennial. But that woman can act, and sing, so stop being a pouty teenager and accept that Streisand is a star for reason. Besides, Yentl is a goddamn feminist icon. If you’re not inspired a woman who loves learning so much that she’s willing to deny her identity and give up the man she loves rather than give up her studies…well, I don’t know if we can be friends. There, I said it.

When we sat down to watch Yentl, The Girl was almost immediately transfixed. She asked lots of questions, like Yentl was sleeping in a forest, why Yentl had to pretend to be a boy, why Yentl got married, why Yentl didn’t want to go swimming, why she was getting married when she didn’t want to. Lots of questions, just like Yentl. She also loves the songs and now asks me to sing “A Piece of Sky” at bedtime.

The Boy, on the other hand, had a visceral reaction to this movie. He HATED it. I think the problem was that he knows that lying is wrong, and he was scared what would happen when Yentl got caught. He has that reaction to TV shows involving wrong-doing too, like, he’ll literally go hide behind a chair or leave the room entirely rather than watch someone doing something he knows they shouldn’t. It was really interesting to see how differently the kids reacted to this movie.

In terms of swears, violence, and nudity, there’s only the last one, and it’s pretty tasteful. You do get a clear view of Mandy Patinkin’s butt when he goes skinny dipping. My family sees each other’s naked butts on the regular (The Girl is practically a nudist) so they didn’t bat an eye at this, but of course your family may react differently.

What I really love about this film is how it supports my nerdiness. It can be really hard for a girl to feel like it’s OK to love books more than dresses, especially today. I also often feel like it’s not OK to ask all the questions running around in my head, especially as a woman–challenging authority is still problematic for women. Yentl gives me and The Girl an example of a person who said “Fuck that noise, Imma do me.” And frankly, The Girl can’t have too many of those examples in her world.

So, turn off that god-awful Sofia the First, and pop in Yentl. Your little girl may love it as much as mine does! Let me know what your kids thought of this film in the comments!

Grown Up Movies for Kids: Wonder Woman

OK, so, this isn’t technically a movie…but the first episode is pretty long, and when you’re talking about an icon of second wave feminism, exceptions can be made.

Over the holidays, my college BFF came to visit, and she brought presents for the kids. For The Boy, Legos of course–she has three boys, she knows the way into a young man’s heart. For The Girl, she wasn’t sure what to get. Because as much as we don’t want to admit it, we live in a world today where toys are completely gendered. It’s fucked up, but it’s true. So, I suggested dress up clothes that aren’t a princess (we have a crapload of princess stuff already). She went on Amazon and she found a Wonder Woman costume.

When The Girl saw it, she was completely stoked and immediately wanted to put it on. I mean, who wouldn’t? She’s got those rad silver bracelets and a gold crown thing and those crazy boots, and a skirt filled with stars. That costume is fucking rad. But fashion isn’t really what The Girl’s excitement was about. It was about her getting to be a superhero.

Some girls who are into superhero stuff are cool with pretending to be a male hero, like Iron Man or whatever. But my girl likes being female characters. She strongly identifies as female. And the fucked up thing about all this princess crap is that the only female characters she’d seen in children’s television who made for good pretend play were princesses, and Doc McStuffins. (She still isn’t really into SuperWhy, and she’s too young for Harry Potter. Hermione will certainly be a hero to her, with her love of books.) Doc is cool and all, but she isn’t magical the way a superhero is.

So when The Girl saw that one can be a feminine super hero, she was like “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE.” I started singing her the theme song, and she was hooked. We found the 1970’s TV series with Lynda Carter on Amazon Prime, and bam, my little girl had found a hero she could look up to.

We talk a lot about girls being able to do anything boys can. But if we don’t show them female role models doing anything, will they really believe us? I would have never known that my girl wanted to play super hero, if we hadn’t given her a feminine super hero as a role model. And that’s why it’s so vital for us to teach our girls about women who do rad stuff. Like Sally Ride, and Madeline Albright, and Sue Bird.

The great thing about 1970’s television is there’s no nudity, there’s no swearing, and the violence is pretty tame, even in a superhero show. So it’s kid-safe, but still exciting. And then there’s all the female empowerment in the show. There are female bad guys as well as a female superhero, because women are individuals capable of both good and evil, just like men. Wonder Woman has to politely tell the Nazis that women can do anything men can, before she punches them out, crashes their plane into their own submarine, and rescues her hapless love interest.

I mean, how can you not love a show whose main character says things like “Sisterhood is stronger than anything” and “You obviously have little regard for womanhood. You must learn respect”? That’s some good shit right there.

Lest you believe that Wonder Woman is only for girls, I would direct you to The Boy, who will tell you that he likes the show too. He especially likes when someone takes out a Nazi.

Let me know what your kids think of Wonder Woman in the comments!

Grown Up Movies for Kids: Little Women

It’s rare for The Girl, who is, after all, only 2, to really get into these grown-up movies for kids. So it’s even more rare for both her and The Boy to both love the same grown up movie. So, this one is a real gem: Little Women. In this review, I’m talking about the version with Wynona Ryder, because it’s on cable all the time, but the version with June Allyson is delightful too.

Let’s go through our list of things that frighten people off from showing grown up movies to their kids: Sex, nope. Swearing: nope. Violence: nope. It doesn’t get any more sweet and pure than Little Women.

I’m not sure what it was about this movie that made The Girl like it so much. It pains me to say this, but perhaps it was the dresses, which are hoop-ish and probably remind her of Sophia the First (shudder). Except, here are girls who clearly aren’t princesses, and that’s what I love about this movie. They struggle for money, and yet they do incredibly kind things like give away their Christmas breakfast to the poor German family that has even less than they do. They rely on the kindness of neighbors, they sell their hair so they don’t have to ask their mean aunt for money, and they work odd jobs to make ends meet. And they’re happy–not that they’re perfect and not that they don’t sometimes wish for more, but they know that they have each other, and that’s way more important than having a palace. It’s like the lesson Sophia pretends to be teaching (“remember how happy we were when we were broke, Mom? Let’s try to recreate our life of poverty, except in a palace!”).

I will also point out that this is a movie about sisters learning to be different instead of competing with each other. They all have different skills–Meg is a nurturer, Jo is a writer, Beth is a musician, and Amy can paint–and somehow, they all admire each other without being all that envious. I mean, they’re not saints and of course they have their moments, but everyone is proud of Jo’s book, and Amy’s painting, and they all celebrate when Beth gets that piano for Christmas. This is a life lesson we all want our kids to learn–find your passion and do it, without worrying about what your sibling is doing. It’s especially important in my family, where it have one child who has a disability and is going to face challenges in school, and one who appears not to.

Is this movie a bit overly sweet? Of course it is, but you know what? I am so sick of movies where people are fighting and shooting at each other, not to mention movies with exactly one female character in the whole film. Here is a movie about women and girls, and it’s charming, and my kids found it charming too. So, set aside your snarkiness for an afternoon and smile at people loving each other for a change. Think of it this way: how many movies are there where sisters, or other women, are mean and just shit on each other all the time? How about we counteract that with a little kindness?

Grown Up Movies for Kids: Strictly Ballroom

Baz Luhrman is a genius. A post-modernist genius. I like post-modernism. Don’t know what that is? Moe Szyslak calls it “Weird for the sake of weird.” But I’d call it material that references earlier art, but creates its own meaning out of it. What I like about Baz Luhrman’s post-modernism is that it’s not just weird for the sake of weird. It IS weird, but it’s also got a purpose. What does all this have to do with a grown-up movie for kids? Well, today’s movie is Strictly Ballroom, a very strange film indeed, but one that is surprisingly kid-friendly

Let’s go over the things that scare people off of showing their kids a grown-up movie: sex, swearing, and violence. None, almost none, and none. And, let’s go over things that we’ve established that The Boy likes: sports movies where you root for an underdog and there’s a big victory scene at the end. Sure, it’s ballroom dancing, or “dance sport” as it’s called in the movie, and not a traditional sport, but hey, it’s the same themes, right? Here you have a guy who wants to win, but do it his own way. He has integrity and he has mad dancing skills.

The Girl actually liked this movie too, I think because it’s so visually stimulating. I mean, there’s people in really brightly colored clothing moving around a lot in practically every scene. And the female lead in this movie is no push over either. She’s not fearless, but she is brave, and she goes after what she wants, and gets it in the end.

I also love that this movie, like Secretariat and Rudy, is to some extent about the underdog, the outcast, the geeky/housewife/little guy/outsider, sticking it to the asshole jocks/popular kids/meanies. Kids eat that shit up, man, and it’s a lesson we all want them to learn: when you see someone being treated unfairly, stick up for them. Give them a hand up. And then maybe spin them around the dance floor while you’re at it.

Grown Up Movies for Kids: Field of Dreams

Ray: “You gonna write about it?”
Terry: “It’s what I do.”

It’s time again for another Grown Up Movie for Kids! And yes, it’s another sports-related movie. The Boy likes sports and so do I. But have you noticed how many of these sports movies aren’t really about sports? Of all the ones I’ve talked about so far, this might be the sports movie that is the least about sports, actually: it’s Field of Dreams. If you have been living under a rock since 1989, well, I’m sorry, I’m not gonna explain the plot to you. Instead, let’s jump into why this is a great movie to watch with a kid.

First off, are you worried about violence or nudity? There is none in this film. (In fact, there’s very little swearing in this one either.) The closest we get is when James Earl Jones’s character threatens to beat up Kevin Coster’s character with a tire iron before being reminded he’s a pacifist. Compare that to Harry Potter, Tangled, and Puss In Boots. The closest we get to nudity is a husband and wife settling down to bed and talking, and then they kiss. The Boy actually asked me what they were going to do next because he’s curious, and I said, “Hug and kiss, maybe have sex. That’s what married people do.” He was like “OK.” What a nice way to show how a healthy loving relationship is supposed to work!

In fact, I really liked the way that the couple in this movie really seem to have a partnership. There’s no “I am the husband, I do what I want.” He convinces his wife it’s the right thing to do before he takes any actions. They discuss their financial problems together. They both parent their daughter. In so many movies, especially sports movies, the spouse or girlfriend is mostly irrelevant to the plot, or resistant to the main character’s goals–Secretariat has that problem and so does Rudy. Here, the wife isn’t just an afterthought. She’s a partner.

What I really loved about watching this with The Boy was how it made him think. At the start of the movie, he asked, “Why do they call it Field of Dreams?” And I said, “That’s a good question, I want you to watch and then tell me what you think the answer is at the end.” And sure enough, at the end he said “It’s because people’s dreams come true there.” He also wanted to understand why Moonlight Graham wasn’t sad about giving up baseball. We had a long talk about that, how being a doctor brought him even more joy than baseball, because he got to help people.

I feel like if I’m gonna watch a movie with my kid, I want it to depict people living in a way that reflects positive values. Values like loving and respecting your life partner, and being helpful to others. Making up for it when you hurt someone’s feelings. Field of Dreams has all of that, and an entertaining plot, and good acting. What more could you ask for in a movie for your kid?

Grown Up Movies for Kids: A League of Their Own

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the lack of women in films, let alone fully realized female characters. One of my all-time least-favorite movies is actually Gone in 60 Seconds, not simply because it’s kind of a dumb movie–there are tons of kind-of dumb movies that I put up with. No, my biggest beef with it is that there is exactly one female character in the whole movie, and the point of her is to be someone for Nicholas Cage to find sexy. What year is this again? Because, seriously, I am so over that shit.

And that’s why a few weekends ago, me and the kids watched A League of Their Own. Because I don’t want them, particularly The Boy, growing up to think that women are only sexy sidekicks. And the sports hook convinced The Boy that this was his kind of movie, and the women in it convinced The Girl that this wasn’t just some dumb sports movie. Is this a great movie? No, it’s really not. But I am really sick of movies about men. Just, really sick of them. So, once in a while, it’s nice to watch a movie about women, and Geena Davis is lovely and tough and makes up for Rosie O’Donnell’s overacting.

I actually find this movie to be a little schmaltzy. OK, a lot schmaltzy. But so is Secretariat, and we all know how much The Boy loves that one. He just really gets worked up about who’s gonna win a sports event, so he gets really into movies with sporting events in them. He also likes rooting for a team, which made this movie hard for him, actually. He got that the Peaches were the team we were supposed to be rooting for, so when (SPOILER ALERT) the younger sister goes to play for a different team and they win the big game, we literally had to pause the movie so he could process his feelings about that. And by process his feelings, I mean we had to talk it through for 10 minutes, he was that upset. You know The Boy likes a movie when he has to process his feelings about it.

There’s some swearing in this movie, and the coach is drunk an awful lot. These are not deal breakers for us–we have lots of conversations about how you shouldn’t drink too much alcohol because it will make you sick and do stupid things, and we’re working on teaching him appropriate use of swear words right now. (“Honey, we say crap when something is bad, not just when we’re surprised or excited. Don’t waste crap on something piddly–you may need that word later when you stub your toe.”) But, if the swears are an issue in your family, I am pretty sure you can watch this movie on a network that edits them out. And if the drinking is an issue, well, I dunno, fast forward or something.

Speaking of the drunk coach, The Boy’s favorite scene in this movie is probably the one when the coach really really really has to pee. A lot. For like five minutes. The Boy almost peed himself laughing.

And there you have it, another non-cartoon movie for your kids, and one that has strong female characters that even The Boy can get into. I hope you enjoy it!

Grown-Up Movies for Kids: Astaire and Rogers

I LOVE old movies. LOVE them. In fact, when I was in high school, my US history teacher gave us an assignment to write about an American artist, so I wrote a 15-page paper on Ginger Rogers (and got an A), because I love her. Have you seen Kitty Foyle? We’ll save that for another blog series I want to do on old-timey movies about feminist warriors, because that is a great film, but not a great film for kids. But you know what is? Any musical she made with Fred Astaire. I’m gonna pick one here not because it’s their best (most critics would say Top Hat or Swing Time get that honor), but because it’s the best for kids to be introduced to the genre of 1930’s musical comedy. But honestly? If your kids dig this movie, they’re gonna dig all of them. OK, without further ado, I give you Shall We Dance.

Made in 1937, Shall We Dance is about a guy named Pete Peters who is a ballet dancer going by the name of Petrov–because a Russian ballet star is gonna go further in life than some dude named Pete Peters, amiright? He falls in love with a singer/dancer named Linda and follows her to America on a transatlantic liner. Due to some lies and miscommunication, everyone on the ship thinks they’re married and it gets out in the press and she flips out and hilarity ensues. Including a dance on roller skates. ROLLER SKATES. I am not even making that up, honest to god they dance to Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off on freaking ROLLER SKATES.

One of the best things about an Astaire-Rogers musical is the awesomely hilarious supporting cast, and you know it’s gonna be one of their better pictures if it has Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore in it. In this pic, Edward Everett Horton is fantastic as Petrov’s promoter, particularly when he thinks their ship is about to sink. It’s just the sort of comedy kids like, and it’s laugh out loud funny for adults too. But Eric Blore is really my favorite, he’s just so freaking ADORABLE. And when the two of them interact in any picture, it’s hilarious.

Now, if your kids don’t get the idea of pretending to be someone else, this one might go over their head a bit. In fact, many of the Astaire-Rogers films will, because the plot hook in most of them is mistaken identity. But once your kids grasp that concept, it’s awesome from there on out.

One thing to keep in mind about any old film, ANY old film, is that race is gonna be a thing. In Shall We Dance, it’s not as bad–the only scene that might make you uncomfortable is the one in the immaculately clean engine room of an ocean liner, where the engine room workers (who sing and play instruments) are all black. And it might make you uncomfortable because you’ll realize that these are the only black people you’ll see in the movie. Welcome to 1930’s American film. Perhaps this would be a good time to explain to your kids that in the olden days, we didn’t treat people of color that well, and that we had to pass laws to try to fix it because it was wrong? Also: if you expand out to other Astaire/Rogers films, watch out for the blackface Bill Bojangles tribute in Swing Time. Oy.

The other thing about old movies is the smoking. The Boy believes that people who smoke should go to jail. No, seriously, he does. We have literally been driving down the street and he’s seen a person smoking and said “MOMMY! That person is smoking! They should go to JAIL!” And we have to explain that it isn’t against the law to smoke, even though it’s very bad for you. When we see an old movie where people are smoking, we remind him, “In the olden days, people didn’t know smoking was so bad for them.” On the other hand, in an old movie, there’s no nudity and no sex. In fact, Fred and Ginger don’t even have a real kiss onscreen in most of their films. And nobody swears.

There’s a reason why these movies have remained popular for 80 years: they really are that good. They’re funny, and the dancing is spectacular, and the music is catchy. Hopefully your kids will agree!

Grown-Up Movies for Kids: Secretariat

Time for another Grown-Up Movie for Kids! This one really is The Boy’s favorite movie, and when I tell people about it, they look at me like I am insane. But it’s true: my 6-year-old son’s favorite movie is Secretariat.

So, in case you know nothing about horse racing, Secretariat is the most awesome race horse ever to have lived. That horse fucking kicked ass. He won the Triple Crown, which is practically impossible, and he was horse of the year, and whatever, he was just a seriously amazing horse. The boy loves the movie because there are a bunch of race scenes, and he finds them gripping. GRIPPING. Even though he totally knows Secretariat is the most awesome race horse ever and of course he is going to win. But kids don’t care that there is no suspense in this movie, they just love the horses racing.

The other thing awesome about this film is John Malkovich. He’s fantastic in his role as the crotchety trainer. I love when he yells insults in French, it reminds me of Dangerous Liasons (man that movie was hot, but alas, not kid friendly). The Boy’s favorite line from John, and mine frankly, is when he insults another trainer by saying “He couldn’t train a monkey to pick at his own butt.” He also says “He couldn’t train his own bowel movements.” You see? What’s not to love about this movie?

Now, I’m not saying this is an Oscar-worthy film. Diane Lane is kinda flat in several of the scenes, and the guy who plays her husband is a terrible actor. Or at least, he’s terrible in this movie. But the woman who plays the family’s assistant is great, and the guy who plays Seth Hancock who was in Hannah Montana? He’s dreeeaaammmmyyyy. Oh, and the costumes! So awesome, I want to own Diane Lane’s wardrobe from this movie.

If you are the type to not let your kids watch anything that includes death in it, well, sorry, this movie is not for you. Diane Lane’s parents are old and they both die during the film, peacefully. Then again, if you can’t stand a death in a movie, you probably can’t handle almost every Disney movie, including Cinderella, Finding Nemo, and The Lion King. Also, you probably don’t read this blog.

So there you have it! Another kid friendly film that adults can stand too. Grab a blanker and cuddle on the couch with your little one, and enjoy!

Grown-Up Movies for Kids: Rudy

You probably realized by now that I like writing series, like Cocktails with the Cult and my Children’s Television Survival Guide. Today I am starting a new occasional series I am calling Grown-Up Movies for Kids. These are movies that when you tell your friends that your kid loves them, they’ll look at you like you are insane. Because, everyone seems to think that kids can only watch movies with cartoon characters in them or, I don’t know, they’ll be bored into a coma and die or something. Bullshit. My kids like plenty of non-cartoon movies, you just have to know the right ones.

Now, I am not talking about movies that are too mature for kids–no exploding skulls, no porno, not even soft core. I am not an idiot, Judgy McJudgerson. I am talking about movies that grown-ups think of as grown-up movies, but that kids may very much love as well. They may have some swear words in them, but in our house, we don’t treat swear words as taboo. We teach our kids when it’s appropriate to use them (in the privacy of your own home, when Grandma isn’t visiting) and when it’s not (“you will get sent to the principal’s office for using that word at school”). So, you may want to watch a few of these movies, like today’s selection, only on basic cable, where the swears have been edited out.

Alright, let’s dive into our first selection: Rudy, from 1993, starring Sean Astin. Astin plays Rudy Rutiger, an actual Notre Dame football player, and the film is loosely based on the real Rudy’s life. Rudy is a tiny man (there is a reason Astin was cast as a Hobbit) who loves football, specifically Notre Dame football, and wants more than anything to play for the Irish. Alas, he did horrible in high school (turns out he had an undiagnosed learning disability), so rather than continuing onto college after graduation, he goes to work at the steel mill with his dad and brothers.

His life is plodding along until his friend Pete does in a fire–you might want to fast forward through that part–and Rudy realizes life is short and you gotta live your dreams. So, he gets on a bus to North Bend and talks to a priest, who helps him enroll at the junior college. Rudy studies hard and exercises and gets a part time job so he can afford food, and after several attempts, he is able to transfer to Notre Dame. (That scene makes me weepy every time.) He walks onto the football team, although he’s tiny and hasn’t got much skill, because he has so much heart. And because of that heart, the coach lets him play in the last game of his senior year, and the other players carry him off the field at the end of the game (like, in a triumphant way, not in a spinal injury stretcher sort of way).

Rudy also features a very young pre-Swingers John Favreau and Vince Vaughn, and a post-Mystic Pizza Lili Taylor. Honestly? It’s a super cheesy movie, but in a good way, because it’s about hard work and determination paying off. It’s about things that aren’t easy being worth the effort. And, it’s about believing in yourself even when everyone else says something is impossible. Which are really good lessons for kids.

The Boy went though a stretch when he was about 4 where this was literally his favorite movie, like, over Cars or Shrek or whatever. He’s probably seen it 20 times. And, you can buy it online for like $5, since it’s so old.