Family Filmgoer: 'Life As We Know It,' 'The Social Network,' 'It's Kind of a Funny Story'

The drama "Secretariat" stars Diane Lane and John Malkovich.
The drama "Secretariat" stars Diane Lane and John Malkovich. (John Bramley)
By Jane Horwitz
Friday, October 15, 2010

10 and older

SECRETARIAT (PG). Teens and preteens may yawn a bit during this reverent and stolidly told tale. "Secretariat" goes a tad heavy on the human story and rather stingily on Secretariat himself. The movie is clearly intended more as a portrait of the horse's devoted and determined owner, Penny Chenery (Diane Lane), and the eccentric trainer she hired, Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich). It is the early 1970s, and Chenery is dismissed as a "housewife" who doesn't belong in the racing world. The daughter of a horse breeder, she overcomes sexism, money and family disputes to raise and race Secretariat.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Some soft-hearted animal-loving preteens may find the horse races hard to watch, though no injuries are shown. Some characters use mildly crude humor.

PG- 13

RED. Teens and adults can savor this spies-in-action comedy, populated by terrific actors and blessed with a consistently funny and occasionally hilarious script, however implausible. Frank Moses is a retired CIA black ops agent, so bored in his suburban home that he keeps calling a Social Security clerk, Sarah in Kansas City, just to chat. When masked assassins break into his home, Frank demolishes them, then heads to Kansas City to protect Sarah, knowing their calls have been tapped. Frank and Sarah track down his former colleagues. Realizing it's the CIA that's after them, the "old folks" find out why.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The script features some rather naughty but vague sexual innuendo, but the PG-13 mostly reflects high-intensity shootouts, explosions and chases, with a few bloody point-blank killings. The script also features infrequent midrange profanity and crude language. People make references to the CIA's use of LSD.

IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY. Discriminating high-school-age audiences can take considerable delight in this perceptive serio-comedy. Craig, a smart 16-year-old New York City high-school student, depressed and suicidal, checks himself into a hospital psych unit. Because the section for younger patients is under renovation, he must bunk with the adults. Craig's clueless dad can't stop pushing the boy about taking a critical test that's supposed to set him up for a great college and future career. It is partly the specter of that exam that drives Craig to near-collapse. In the hospital he's befriended by Bobby, a funny, but also suicidal long-term patient, and by Noelle, a girl his own age who has depression issues and has cut herself. It's a treat to watch young Craig regain his bearings, find his real passion and help others.

The bottom line: There's a brief make-out scene with a girl from Craig's school and non-explicit chat about sex. Patients sometimes steal and take drugs they're not prescribed and make references to LSD. One scene implies nudity as someone poses for an artist.

LIFE AS WE KNOW IT. High-schoolers watching this slightly raunchy romantic comedy (not really for middle-schoolers) will know from the start that although Holly and Messer can't stand each other, they are destined to be together. However, their romance unfolds in sweetly funny style from start to finish. It begins with an awful blind date, in which Holly and Messer learn they hate each other. Then the couple who had set them up die in a car crash (not shown), and their will names Holly and Messer as guardians of their baby girl.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The discussion of sexuality among the film's droll supporting characters is part of what makes this film more for high-schoolers. There are several gently implied overnight trysts, steamy kissing, midrange profanity, drinking and lots of baby toilet humor. Grief over the death of Sophie's parents is treated with sensitivity.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK. The brainy, machine-gun dialogue, computer high jinks and collegiate sex roiling at the center of this terrific movie make it problematic for middle-schoolers. Sophisticated high-schoolers, however, won't be able to ignore its sad, edgy portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook while a Harvard undergrad. David Fincher's film portrays Zuckerberg as a socially inept computer geek and arrogant motormouth. It's 2003. Zuckerberg gets dumped by his girlfriend and trashes her on his Harvard blog. The backlash makes him a pariah, but it gives him an idea about creating a way for students to connect online. Facebook is born and grows fast. The film cuts back and forth between Harvard and a law office a few years later, where Zuckerberg faces former classmates who say he stole the Facebook idea.

THE BOTTOM LINE: There is a fairly R-ish approach to the behavior of its college-age characters. The film depicts drug use, drinking, smoking, a strongly implied sexual situation and less strongly implied promiscuity, as well as partial nudity, verbal and visual innuendo. Characters use sexist slurs and occasional strong profanity.


YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER. Woody Allen tells an engaging, understated tale of deflated dreams among adults who should know better. Alfie is bored with his life and afraid of getting old. He leaves his wife, Helena, and marries a call girl. Helena and Alfie's daughter, Sally, longs for children but is married to a morally challenged novelist, Roy. Sally has a crush on her married boss, while Roy starts up with a young woman who lives across the road.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Not likely to pique the interest of any but the most worldly-wise high-schoolers. This film is a mildish R, with strong profanity, a lot of drinking, a few brief scenes implying sexual situations with partially undressed characters, and a major theme dealing with infidelity. Horwitz is a freelance reviewer.

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