Spud is set in South Africa in 1990, in the period just after Nelson Mandela is released from prison. John Milton (Troye Sivan) is a 13-year-old schoolboy with parents who are a teenage boy’s worst nightmare. His father is a paranoid fervent anti-communist, and his mother embarrasses him all the time without even trying. After winning a scholarship, John escapes his parents and starts his first year at an elite private boarding school.
John desperately wants to fit in with the other boys, who have nicknames such as Rambo, Rain Man, Mad Dog, Fatty and Boggo. Unfortunately John is sexually underdeveloped. When the other boys notice his lack of sexual maturity, they ostracise him and give him the nickname ‘Spud’, a reference to his underdeveloped genitals.
John perseveres despite this and makes friends with an accident-prone misfit called Henry Barker (Jamie Royal), nicknamed Gecko. John also becomes friends with the school’s English teacher, Mr Edly (John Cleese), nicknamed ‘the Gov’, who becomes a sort of mentor. Slowly gaining acceptance, John becomes a lead player in the school’s production of Oliver Twist. He also finds himself romantically involved with two girls, Debbie (Genna Blair) and Amanda (Charbi Dean Kriek), which adds to an already complex year.
School bullying; alcohol abuse; serious illness and death
This movie has some violence. For example:
- A young boy falls over, and another boy shouts, ‘Pile on’. About a dozen boys jump on top of the fallen boy. When the boys get up the fallen boy is lying on the ground and seems to be unconscious.
- Some boys pick up a young boy, Gecko, and carry him to the toilets. They upend him so that his head is in the toilet bowl. They flush the toilet, which leaves Gecko coughing and spluttering.
- Some boys pick up Spud and carry him to the toilets where they pin him down, pull down his pants and smear shoe polish over his genitals. The scene doesn’t actually show them putting on the shoe polish.
- Some boys pour flammable liquid onto another student and then set it on fire. Other students tip a bucket of water on the flaming student, which puts out the fire. The boy doesn’t seem to be hurt.
- A boy rushes another boy and pins him against a wall. He puts his forearm across the boy’s neck.
- During a pillow fight, there is the sound of glass being broken. A shard of glass sticks out of the side of Gecko’s forehead, and blood runs down the side of his forehead.
- A teacher tells the boys that he will be giving each of them ‘six of the best’. The boys line up to be caned. Spud bends over a table waiting to be caned. The teacher raises the cane, there is the sound of it striking, and Spud screws up his face in agony.
This movie has sexual references and innuendoes throughout. For example:
- A school boy is described as a ‘full-on sex maniac’ who buys pornographic magazines.
- A school boy says, ‘Spud couldn’t wank if he had tweezers and a magnifying glass’.
- A school teacher describes lesbians in a crude way.
- A teacher says, ‘As porous as a whore’s dress’.
- When girls from a private all-girls school are invited to Spud’s school for a dance, the boys place bets on how far each boy will get with one of the girls. They bet $5 on squeezing a girl’s breast, and $10 on touching her ‘holy of holiests’. At one point a boy waves a girl’s bra above his head.
- Spud’s senile grandmother is talking about Spud’s girlfriend, Debbie. She uses crude language to talk about his relationship with Debbie. She describes Debbie’s breasts as a ‘good pair of knockers’.
- Teachers use crude language to talk about girls and women.
- The school’s house videos are replaced by lesbian pornography.
- In relation to Debbie, Spud says, ‘She touched me with her breasts and my willie went all weird’.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
This movie shows some use of substances. For example:
- The school’s English teacher, Mr Edly, is an alcoholic, who drinks large amounts of wine and spirits. In several scenes he is visibly drunk. Spud asks him, ‘Why do you drink? The more you drink the sadder you get’.
- On one occasion, Mr Edly pours Spud a glass of wine and tells Spud to drink it because it will loosen him up. Spud slowly drinks the wine.
- Spud’s father helps his maid sell illegal alcohol.
- There is a dream image of Debbie with a cigarette in her mouth.
Nudity and sexual activity
This movie has some nudity and low-level sexual activity. For example:
- In several scenes a woman with large breasts wears low-cut tops.
- Spud holds hands with Debbie in a couple of scenes. One scene shows Spud and Debbie passionately kissing each other.
- In one scene a school girl passionately kisses Spud on the mouth and then licks his face with her tongue. The same girl kisses several other boys.
- Spud sees a student straightening his clothes as he walks out of a school change room. The boy tells Spud to keep his mouth shut. Eve, a teacher’s wife, walks out of the same room, also straightening her clothes. Everyone in the school – except Eve’s husband – finds out they’re having an affair.
- There is a dream-like image of two teenage girls about to kiss each other. The kiss isn’t shown. There is a dream image of Debbie eight months pregnant.
None of concern
Spud contains coarse language and name-calling.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Spud is a coming-of-age comedy that is likely to entertain older adolescents and adults. There are scenes that might disturb younger viewers, and you might be concerned about the violence, particularly the bullying, sexual references and coarse language.
The main message from this movie is that our greatest gift in life is freedom of choice.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include the following:
- Friendship: Spud shows the value of friendship when he makes friends with Gecko. He gives Gecko emotional and moral support, especially when Gecko gets sick and goes into hospital.
- Perseverance and courage: Spud never gives up in his attempts to fit in at school. He shows courage when he goes outside his comfort zone and auditions for the school musical.
You could also talk about the attitude to girls and women shown by both the boys and their teachers.