Underage actors choosing to make edgy movies is nothing new -- from Jodie Foster and Brooke Shields to Dakota Fanning and Natalie Portman. Therefore, I don't think they "owe" it to audiences to do only tween-friendly flicks. If an adolescent star -- after guidance from her representation and (hopefully) parents -- wants to film "controversial" R-rated movies, that's their business.
Instead, audiences should be focusing their attention on the real danger, which is not with the films or the filmmakers or the eager young actresses playing these "controversial" roles -- it's with the marketers who capitalize on their popular stars to convince real-life kids that this is a movie they should check out.
I recently exchanged emails with my editor and friend Betsy Bozdech about "Hick," and she agreed that in and of itself, the movie doesn't pose any neon-flashing danger to the children of today. The danger is if/when a marketing director decides to sell a movie like "Hick" -- however subtly -- as a chance for tweens and teens to see a favorite actor in a role that's decidedly not targeted at them.
"I agree that it's not new -- I kept thinking of 'Lolita' and 'Taxi Driver' -- but I do think it's responsible for filmmakers and studios to market movies at appropriate audiences rather than whoever might be interested," she said.
That's the crucial difference: "Hick" is not thematically appropriate for young teens or tweens, even if they did love Moretz in "Hugo" (or Blake Lively from "Gossip Girl" for that matter). The same goes for Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning in "The Runaways."
Nevertheless, that reasoning didn't stop me from cringing when I heard two middle-school Twihards discuss the fact that Robert Pattinson stars in "Cosmopolis," which debuts at the Cannes Film Festival this May. I wanted to interrupt their conversation and tell them that there was no way that Don De Lillo's novel (adapted by David Cronenberg, no less!) was appropriate for them, even if they were Pattinson's biggest fans. But they weren't my daughters or nieces or friends, just two girls at the Barnes and Noble.
So what can we do? It's not the industry's place to censor filmmakers or force teen actors to make only PG-rated projects. As for marketers, they will do what they're paid to do to help boost a film's opening revenues -- as abhorrent as that is when it comes to certain movies.
For parents, as Betsy points out, the answer is simple: be informed, watch trailers, read reviews, don't say "Yes" to an evening out at the movies unless you know exactly what your teens are going to see, even if that means asking them about the movie afterward.
"In this day and age of all-the-time media and nonstop marketing, I think parents need to play a role in being aware/informed and taking the opportunity to talk about these issues and situations with their teens," Betsy added.
"Ask questions about what makes someone a good role model and why studios might be trying to sell controversial products to kids and teens. It's like making lemonade out of lemons; make teaching moments out of tough situations."
Hidden Messages in Kids Movies