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10 Recs That'll Rock You (and the Kids)
Yep, you're with the band.
’Tis the season for vicarious living! And what’s more dreamy for kids and grownups alike than throwing together a rock band and running off on a shenanigans-filled tour? (The answer is nothing.) Because most of us have jobs, school, and/or not a musical bone in our bodies, we instead turn to cinema! to scratch the itch. Our picks range from the wonderful to the weird and include front men and women from a Diana Rossified Beyoncé to Greg Brady in a fringed leather jacket.
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Platinum Picks for Kids from 1 to 92
That Thing You Do! (1996; Hulu, Paramount+): The best all-ages movie ever is finally on major streamers, and TBP just so happy for all of us we might start belting out the entire soundtrack, of which we know every word. (It was released when TBP was a sponge-brained fifth grader, and gah we wore out that green-and-blue DVD.) The story of Erie, Pennsylvania, buddies who start a rock band and with the help of Tom Hanks’s management skills hit the big time is about friendship, love, ambition, and the 1960s. The script is slyly funny—snaps to Steve Zahn’s delivery as preening guitarist Lenny—and the cast has that “special something”: Tom Everett Scott is so charming as drummer Guy Patterson that Hollywood thought they had the next Tom Hanks on their hands at the time (his career has worked out differently, but I’ll still watch anything he does). Liv Tyler is at her loveliest as Faye, initially the girlfriend of lead singer Jimmy and eventually a much more central character. And you’ll want to hug Ethan Embry’s flighty, Army-bound bass player. Close watchers will also delight in the movie’s starry supporting cast, which includes Charlize Theron in her first major (though still minor) role and Rita Wilson as a bosomy cocktail waitress, plus Chris Isaak, Giovanni Ribisi, Bryan Cranston, Kevin Pollack, and Paul Feig. We first screened TTYD for our kids when they were three and seven, wondering if it would at all resonate. For the rest of the weekend, they played “band on tour” with their Playmobil bus, an activity that was followed by many moons of fanciful flights of starting their own real-life rock band. We watched it again more recently, once they were both in double digits, and while the Playmobil roadies were a thing of the past, the prevailing sentiment was the same: “That’s just suuuuuch a good movie, Rach.”
School of Rock (2003; rent from 2003): The runner-up for best band-centric family movie will make your kids drag their neighbor friends into your garage to divide up the parts (deciding who gets to be lead singer may get intense) and then ask you for drum lessons and amps over dinner. Read all about it here in TBP’s valentine to sticking it to the man.
Faux-Indie Fare for Elementary-Age Kids and Tweens (and Not Their Parents)
Jem and the Holograms (2015; Netflix): This movie should be right up TBP’s alley; it’s based on the ’80s animated series and has teenage-girl angst, fun costumes, and a one-two nostalgia punch of Juliette Lewis and Molly Ringwald (as the grown-ups). But it’s a really weak version of the star-is-born trope—surprising given that it was directed by Jon Chu of Crazy Rich Asians and In the Heights—at least in my aged estimation. Our upper-elementary schooler, L.B., however, loves this movie, has for years. She even insisted on being Jem for Halloween one year, and she looked very rock’n’roll.
Vintage Tracks For Teens and Mature Tweens (and/or Their Parents)
Almost Famous (2000; Hulu): The top coming-of-age band movie is also now on Hulu. If you have a teen who hasn’t seen it, sit them down, press play, whisper “It’s all happening,” and leave them be. They’ll thank you.
Josie and the Pussycats (2001; rent from $3.99): A star-studded (for TBP’s generation at least) girl band navigates the tensions between art, commerce, and a villainous Alan Cumming. This pick was part of TBP’s slumber party roundup.
Dreamgirls (2006; HBO Max): A must-watch for anyone who falls into the musical/Supremes/Beyoncé Venn diagram of fandom.
The Sapphires (2012; Amazon Prime, the Roku Channel): A quirky Australian musical-comedy about a girl group that’s mentored by the winning Chris O’Dowd.
Jersey Boys (2014; rent from $3.99): The movie version of your boomer parents’ favorite Broadway show—directed by Clint Eastwood!—is a totally respectable jukebox musical about the Four Seasons for those who are into that kind of thing. Even those who aren’t may look up and realize their toes are tapping.
Sing Street (2016; Amazon Prime, the Roku Channel, Pluto): This obscure, ’80s-set Irish movie follows Dublin teen Conor as he goes through personal upheaval and starts a rock band. To be sure you pick up everything these kids put down, you may want to turn on closed captioning. Sláinte!
PLUS: A Bonus TV Episode for Everyone!!
The Brady Bunch, Season 3: Episode 16, “Dough Re-Mi” (1969; Hulu, Paramount+): Our kids have watched The Brady Bunch in its entirety twice. Humble brag, I know, I know. “Dough Re-Mi” is the best (available) episode of the entire series; in it, the Brady Six record a “surefire hit song” written and led by groovy Greg, averting crisis when the brood finds a new part for Peter, whose voice is very noticeably changing. The song, by the way, is called “Time to Change,” and it is really something!
The other great musical episode of The Brady Bunch is “Amateur Night,” episode 16 of season 4. But all I can point you toward is this grainy YouTube clip, beyond which the ep is nowhere to be found—both platforms currently streaming the show skip “Amateur Night” altogether. Probably something to do with music rights. Take it up with the Hulu people!
If you’re wondering why we’re not recommending The Partridge Family, which is entirely about a family band, it’s because neither TBP nor our kids ever really clicked with it, despite multiple attempts. I think that’s because the mom is actually in the band. I mean, sure Shirley is a cool mom…but she’s still a mom. Plus the little kids look like they might still be in diapers and who wants to be on a tour bus with that.