We had just returned from a holiday vacation in Florida and my son had been missing his best friend. His mother and I planned to take the kids to see a movie the next day, and they had chosen Bumblebee, the newest installation in the Transformers series.
Well, I thought, I guess it could be a good time to take a nap if it’s really terrible.
Having never seen any of the other movies in the Transformers franchise, I had no idea what this movie was about; my only frame of reference was a Bumblebee Transformers toy my son used to play with when he was a toddler. I wasn’t into it.
The movie started, as you might expect, with an exciting, action-packed battle, with the Transformers front and center. However, it quickly morphed to a scene on Earth. And then over to the true protagonist, a teenage girl on the eve of her 18th birthday in 1987. That’s when it becomes a story about a girl and her car.
That’s when I started to fall in love with the movie.
Charlie (played by Hailee Steinfeld) seems to be full of the familiar teenage angst many of us have been through as teenagers, complete with breakouts, annoying parents, mean girls, and the requisite little brother. The little brother, packs a karate kick, though, and he is adorable.
More than anything, what Charlie wants for her birthday is a car of her own. She has a motorized bike, and she takes to the streets with her Walkman in hand. The 80s-era references throughout the story, like the Walkman and the associated music, had me smiling in recognition (no spoilers – I don’t want to ruin your surprise and delight). Incidentally, the soundtrack is available now on Spotify, and it has been on heavy rotation in my house since I returned home from the theater.
Every step of her heroine’s journey, Charlie has to figure out how to adapt on her own. A loner at school, she prefers the company of the retro Corvette she is restoring in her garage. When she finds an old yellow VW Beetle in the junkyard, she coaxes it back to life with her persistence and the skills she has learned working on the Corvette.
As Charlie and the Transformer, which she names Bumblebee, develop mutual trust and friendship, she grows up. Watching her transform (pun irresistible) into a more confident young woman reminded me of my own teenage years and all of the iterations of myself that I road-tested on the way to figuring out who I was going to be when I grew up.
Charlie learns to accept help and develop grace along the way, from her family and from a neighbor boy who stumbles upon the secret she’s concealing in her garage. She makes the rules and neither solicits advice nor acts helpless at any point. Even an old fear forces her to face her past and make peace with it, finding her strength again. When the neighbor boy indicates interest, Charlie is in charge and she sets the tone, making it clear what she’s ready for and what she’s not. The raciest thing you’ll see in this film is a chaste kiss on the cheek, which makes it very kid-friendly.
Ultimately, this is a powerful movie for all kids, and especially girls; but because it’s in the Transformers genre, many girls might miss it. While former Transformer movies may have starred men and mostly male Autobots saving the world, in this case, it’s Charlie and Bumblebee. She fixes her own cars, solves her own problems, and makes her own money. While the mean girls get to her emotions, she finds a way to overcome the obstacles they set in her way. She is fierce, but soft. Tender and strong. She has attitude, but not in a disrespectful way that many teenagers are portrayed to have.
Take your girls – and boys – to see Bumblebee. You might think that a Transformers movie is not for you. I get it. But I have a feeling that this particular Transformers movie is something different. Something special. It is, at the heart of it, a story about a girl and her car. And, about a girl who’s charting her own course on the road.
Want to read what Common Sense Media says about Bumblebee? Read here.
Photo Credits: Paramount Pictures