Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Kids in America

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, mature thematic elements and language

Reviewed by: Sheri McMurray

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Comedy Drama
1 hr. 31 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
October 21, 2005 (wide—700 theaters)
Featuring: Gregory Smith, Stephanie Sherrin, Nicole Richie, Malik Yoba, Julie Bowen
Director: Josh Stolberg
Producer: Andrew Shaifer
Distributor: Slow Hand Releasing
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Relevant Issues
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Teen Qs™—Christian Answers for teenagers
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Learn how to make your love the best it can be. Discover biblical answers to questions about sex, marriage, sexual addictions, and more.

How can I deal with temptations? Answer

Should I save sex for marriage? Answer

How far is too far? What are the guidelines for dating relationships? Answer

What are the consequences of sexual immorality? Answer

“Little kids are born deformed, people die of terrible diseases, and there are earthquakes and tornadoes that cause havoc. This proves that we are on our own. There is no God! How do you answer that?” Reply

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

Get schooled, not fooled.

I had an epiphany watching “Kids In America!” It hit me like it must have when Edison discovered electricity. It was right there all the time, and I never saw it before tonight! The real reason so many kids are so screwed up these days is because the schools are really screwed up.

I know, I know—you say “well, duh!” But, stay with me here. It gets better (worse?). The schools are screwed up because they have gotten way too big for their britches. The blame is not all on the shoulders of our Supreme Court or local governments or even those civil rights guys out there who insist on taking down the Ten Commandments from display or prayer from the schools because it ‘offends them.’ Nope, it’s because we have let the schools play baby sitter and moral monitor way too long, because we trusted them, and now they think they run the show!

I worked many years at a small town bank. People looked to us for guidance and were content because they felt confident that the same familiar faces would be there smiling at them every time they entered the lobby. People would come into the bank to do their banking and then stay around to chat with neighbors and friends. We didn’t have metal detectors or an armed guard, yet customers felt safe there. We were trusted never to change. Then corporate banking stepped in and announced we were merging with another fine bank that was well known across the Midwest. Our customers became concerned, and many asked, “You aren’t gonna get too big for your britches now that you are getting bigger, now are you?” And we really believed it when we reassured them we would always remain their trusted ‘small town’ bank. But, of course, it didn’t go that way.

Over the process of several years, we bought out and morphed into one of the largest banks in the USA, and we did get too big for our britches along the way. We forgot our roots. We forgot our friends, and we stepped right over the little guy on our way to the top. We gained a lot of new customers, but we lost a lot of old friends trying to ‘super size,’ and the funny thing is, we were convinced it was for every body’s own good.

The characters in “Kids In America” are like that bank. The teachers believe all the hard rules they are putting on the students are only for their own good, and the kids believe they are being choked by rules and regulations that constrain their creativity and freedom of speech. While the root causes are worthy, each one gets taken to the extreme, and, at the end, these characters are really no better off than when they began. The public school system has degenerated and has caused our kids to do the same thing. Were it not for the few dedicated teachers we still have left, the public school system would (and sadly will) implode in on itself.

Too bad that this film is all over the field. It can’t make up it’s mind if it is a comedy or a drama, because they fight against the story, each vying for it’s place, rather than inhabiting the space as a team. Many of the problems festering in modern school systems today are explored, brought out in the open and crabbed about, but none are given a solution. Conditions such as safe sex versus no sex, freedom of expression, privacy, speech, and even thought, intolerance and prejudice are all here, but either skimmed off the surface or laughed off the stage. Too bad, because director/writer Josh Stolberg and co-writer Andrew Shaifer had their chance to really make a statement about conditions faced by students, as well as teachers, and even a fun forum to vent these concerns and provide possible answers.

The comedy is suppose to get kids to have fun while they think about problems within the school systems today. The drama is designed to rope us all in and reminds us we have all ‘been there’ in our lives—that first kiss, that principal that is just too strict, the teacher everyone considers cool, fitting in, teacher’s pets, believing you can change the world. But what it all boils down to is what is really appropriate and what is inappropriate?

Is it right to send someone home for wearing a t-shirt that announces “Barbie is a Lesbian” while allowing the kid that has a shirt which pictures a rock star biting off the head of a bat to remain in school? Should a student be disciplined for writing poetry that one teacher finds offensive while another student is commended for ‘staying inside the lines’? What is fair, and what is cruel and unjust punishment?

The script argues for freedom of everything, not just of speech—that the question is to question. Giving first amendment rights their due within the educational system. That the side effect to our current educational system is boredom and mediocrity. To step forward and speak out not only against prejudice between the races, but intolerance for gay rights, same sex relationships, and medieval policies like our government’s (and more deliberately President Bush’s) ‘Abstinence Only’ reforms.

On the positive side “Kids In America” encourages students to be sure the cause is relevant and worth fighting for. Don’t stay on the side lines, but get up and do something about the problems we face. It’s good to be creative in the ways in which we tackle our problems, but not to protest to the point that it becomes dangerous to others. Pranks and stunts might get attention, but do not insight real change. That having the power to expel someone just because they don’t think the same as the educator (in this case, the Principal), never will get rid of the problem.

Although the film is rated PG-13, and there are no violent or bloody scenes, they are replaced with our Lord’s name being taken in vain several times, foul language uttered not only by high school students, but adults, who are depicted as role models (teachers and parents).

There is a scene where two teenage characters are exploring different ways to kiss, and the female unsnaps her bathing suit top. Even though shown from the back, she opens it while the male teenager is standing to her front. There is one teenage character that is openly gay and the brunt of many ‘gay jokes.’ In protest for this gay male getting expelled for kissing another gay male in the school hallway, the whole student body starts kissing members of the same sex, and for me the scene fit the protest within this script, but was way over the top. I felt extremely uncomfortable watching it. Also the subject of clitoral mutilation is brought up as a subject for a class assignment—yikes!

All teachers, save one, were depicted as self-centered, narrow-minded idiots. All parents were shown as either losers or old hippies who know the ‘protest’ ropes. I know these characters acted in these ways to add to the comedic plotline, but it was not balanced. There was not one with redeeming qualities.

There is a scene where a protest goes wrong, and a character is injured. I am concerned that kids watching this movie might try some of these stupid pranks and really put themselves and others in harm’s way.

Parents, if you do consider letting your teens see “Kids In America,” please do not let them see this film alone. There are way too many subjects that must be discussed with God’s will in mind. It is imperative that a parent or youth group pastor, with the knowledge of Scriptural precepts be ready to discuss and lead teens in the direction of The Cross.

I was saved in my Senior year in high school and was a true “Jesus Freak” with peace beads, tie-dyed skirts and the universal flower in my hair. I was known to speak out respectfully and peacefully about the issues of the day, many of which are singled out in this movie, which also sadly proves our culture hasn’t come as far as we would have imagined back “in the day.”

Jesus himself was a protester, turning over the tables in the temple and going head to head with the religious leaders of His day. As I scan my Bible and search scriptural topics, I must admit I have never come across an issue that has not or cannot be resolved through knowledge, love and perseverance. Displays of hate, shock and offense never sided with the heart of God.

Colossians 3:5—Therefore consider the members of your Earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry [emphasis added].

1 Timothy 4:7-8—[D]iscipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (emphasis added).

Christian spiritual discipline is a repeated bodily practice, done over and over again, in dependence on the Holy Spirit and under the direction of Jesus and other wise teachers in His Way, to enable one to get good at certain things in life that one cannot learn to do by direct effort.

Even the title of this movie attempts to state this is the way kids in America are—or should be—or should react to intolerance or indifference. God forbid they ever do.

If we teach our kids to discipline their bodies, their minds and knowledge, then they will have the courage to question—and the knowledge (in The Word) to effect change when injustice rears it’s head. It has never been wrong in our democracy, in fact it is encouraged, that we stand up in defense of our faith and for the rights of other human beings. It also means facing our own uncertainties, and that’s where God lights up the picture with The Truth.

Boldly face the claims by teachers, professors and peers; we’ve heard them a million times, “The government shouldn’t be able to tell a woman she can’t get an abortion—it’s her body!” or, “Christians have no logical evidence to show that God exists; it’s just blind faith,” or, “If God is so loving, why do innocent people die?” Get into The Word and discover the answers—or at least beginnings of answers—to all those questions.

It is your duty to be ready with an answer and “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NIV) in those situations. Never waiver to stand up in defense. His words are truth and life!

God isn’t meant to be your own private God. His mystery invites questioning. There’s no need to be confrontational, nor do you need to be especially philosophical. Be unafraid to question, and unafraid to journey with others who are doing the same. God rightly measures up to even our toughest questions. Instead, ask your questions and receive them gladly from others, confident that God will show up and reveal to us that He really is who He says He is!

By the way, the film includes several cameo appearances by noted actors such as Rosanna Arquette, George Went, and Elizabeth Perkins, to name a few.

Violence: Minor / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Movie Critics
…As sweetly intentioned as it is clumsily predictable, ‘Kids in America’ is a fact-inspired liberal rant against the current post-Patriot Act climate that stifles free speech and social activism among high schoolers. …[2/4]
—Boston Herald, Stephen Schaefer
…You know all those “brainless high school comedies”? Here’s what one would look like if it had brains. …[3/4]
—Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert
…Satire’s too heavy a load for lightweight ‘Kids in America’…ends up trivializing the subject through cutesiness and villains too farcical to believe in…
—Associated Press, David Germain
…Well-meaning but woefully unconvincing…
—The Hollywood Reporter, Sheri Linden
Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—I really liked this movie. It was definitely Teen Comedy. It DID have some stuff in it that some people wouldn’t like. There is, however, very litte cussing. There is a scene where there is some same-sex kissing, which I don’t agree with. There is some other stuff that is a little objectionable, but if you are not offended by these sorts of things, you should go see it. I thought it was really funny and better than I thought it was going to be.
My Ratings: Average / 3½
—Stefanie, age 18