Addams Family Values

Addams Family ValuesSynopsis: The Family Just Got A Little Stranger.

It’s love at first sight when Gomez (Raul Julia) and Motricia (Anjelica Huston) welcome a new addition to the Addams Household – Pubert, their soft, cuddly, mustachioed baby boy. As Fester (Christopher Lloyd) falls hard for voluptuous nanny Debbie Jilinsky (Joan Cusack), Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) discover she’s a black widow murderess who plans to add Fester to her collection of dead husbands. The family’s future grows even bleaker when the no-good nanny marries Fester and has the kids shipped off to summer camp. But Wednesday still has a Thing or two up her sleeve…

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Addams Family Values 7.75

eyeslights:  Pubert. Carol Kane. the day camp satire.
eyesores: Joan Cusack’s slur. Take That’s theme song

Gomez (looking at his newborn son): “He has my father’s eyes.”
Morticia: “Gomez, take those out of his mouth.”

‘Addams Family Values’ is the direct sequel to 1991’s smash hit ‘The Addams Family‘, based partly on Charles Addams’ cartoons and on the 1964-6 television series of the same name. It features a returning cast and crew. Paul Rudnick, who did some script doctoring on the original film was staked with writing the full screenplay for this one.

Honestly, I wish that the producers had hired him from the get-go: ‘Addams Family Values’ is a stark improvement over its predecessor.

Part of the improvement lies in the cast, and part in the writing, but both are clearly more inspired: the principal cast, which was augmented by Carol Kane in the role of Grandmama (Judith Malina played her in the first picture), seem to relish every moment, and Rudnick went to town in incorporating the morbidity that the Addams delight in.

It was a recipe for success, and by most accounts ‘Addams Family Values’ is a superior film. And yet despite its acclaim, it failed to generate the audience enthusiasm of the original – it eventually made a respectable gross (pun intended), and certainly outflanked its budget, but it garnered even less than half the box office numbers of the original.

I can’t, for the life of me, fathom why that is. While ‘Addams Family Values’ is not exactly as perfect as I would like it to be, it’s funnier, livelier, and it takes the characters to places that are totally suited to highlight their… ahem… counter-cultural tastes.  Even the production looks better, more accomplished, fuller, more detailed.

The only Thing (haha) I can think of to explain this box office “disappointment” is that it faced a stupendous box office foe in ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’, a massive hit featuring Robin Williams. Perhaps adding to the problem was that the latter was a more “family-friendly” motion picture, and that the new Addams Family film was less so than even the first Addams film was.

Perhaps, that’s Itt.

Truth be told, as I watched ‘Addams Family Values’ I was astounded by the fact that it Motion Picture Association of America passed it with a PG-13 rating. It’s not to say that the film is gory, or gratuitous in its violence, but this is a picture whose central plot is that a professional widow is trying to marry and kill off Fester to inherit his fortune.

This translates into all sorts of gruesome attempts at murder – which invariably end up as hilarious as they are horrible, given her miserable failure each time. I chuckled happily at Debbie’s growing exasperation (which was no doubt the intention of the film). Aside from this, however, the picture is also littered with all sorts of  behaviour that would be objectionable at the best of times.

This should come as no surprise: they are, after all, the Addams. I mean, their children’s favourite pastime is trying to kill each other, for goodness’ sake!

However, it’s questionable when Wednesday and Pugsley try to rid themselves of their new brother, Pubert (the original name that Charles Addams had picked for Pugsley, but which didn’t pass muster with the TV execs of the day). It’s all perfectly in line with the Addams spirit, and I’m sure Charles Addams  would approve, but infanticide is hardly a laughing matter.

And this is where I wonder about the MPAA rating.

Let’s face it: in the eyes of an adult, this can be seen for the twisted, ghastly good time it’s meant to be. However, the film was made available to thirteen year olds – which in turn means that younger audiences would be exposed to it (let’s face it, parents rarely screen their kids’ entertainment, and a PG-13 film would likely seem okay to most of them).

Given how influenceable children can be (not are, can be), I wonder how wise the rating was. We are talking about a film wherein children  are trying to murder their baby brother – and given that Wednesday and Pugsley were around 13 to 15 in this film, it means that they are relatable to some degree. To me, this makes for a very poor mix where impressionable youth are concerned.

And I’m not saying that it’s the choice of humour that’s at issue, here. Hardly. I laughed my head off too. I just question the choice of audience, is all.

Unlike its predecessor, which was goofier, ‘Addams Family Values’ puts most of its eggs in one basket, often going for implied or attempted violence as a source of humour. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. For instance, there’s the gag at Fester’s bachelor party, which is awesomely gruesome because Lurch baked the cake the stripper was hidden in.

The gag itself is kind of funny, in a “whoops” sort of way.  The problem lies in Gomez’ reaction to the incident, which was a simple dismissal of the problem: “C’est la vie” he says aloofly, squandering the moment. This seemed a little strange to me, because I’m used to John Astin’s Gomez, and his eyes would have lit up at the thought, finding a way to make the most of that situation.

I think that an utterly ghoulish, yet gleeful quip would have saved the moment, something to counter Lurch’s grim disappointment. I’m no script writer, but a quickie along the lines of “Don’t fret Lurch: a smokey flavour always tastes better.”, “Well, everyone… dig in!” or “Mmmm… sweet AND salty!” would have worked for me. You know, just to highlight the macabre side of the equation.

The thing is that, while the overall writing is better in ‘Addams Family Values’, the one-liners aren’t exactly stellar. In fact, I’d say that these remain the series’ main Achilles’ Heel. Had they been clever and/or truly hilarious, the picture would have been massively improved upon. Here are a few examples of the many moments that peter out:

Amanda: “Hi, I’m Amanda Buckman. Why are you dressed like that?”
Wednesday: “Like what?”
Amanda: “Like you’re going to a funeral. Why are you dressed like somebody died?”
Wednesday: “Wait.”

This is too ambiguous. Why not have Wednesday leer at Amanda and say something along the lines of “Someone always does.”?

Delivery Room Doctor: “Would you like anesthesia?”
Morticia: “No, thank you. But do ask the children.”

Giving your children drugs is funny. Sure. Especially in this over-medicated culture. It would have been better if Morticia had merely reproached the doctor for even suggesting such a thing: “What? And miss out on this delicious agony? Never!”

Morticia (as Thing hops on Debbie’s shoulder): “Thing, stop that.”
Gomez: “He likes you.”
Debbie Jellinsky (Debbie sucks on Thing’s index finger; he shudders and falls off): “I’m good with my hands.”

What? What does that mean? She didn’t use her hands, and the hand in question is someone else’s (uh… something else). Wouldn’t saying something like “Mmmm… I love hands, don’t you?” be more appropriate? Or just “I’m good with hands”?

Between the subpar or contextually inappropriate lines and some of the delivery (Ricci’s deadpan was slightly off in this one), the laughs were lacking. But the cast, for the most part, was superb:

Raúl Juliá and Angelica Huston were clearly having a blast, as was Christopher Lloyd, who was finally in full Fester mode. Carol Kane brought Grandmama to life, while Joan Cusack was appropriately quirky. And Carel Struycken’s Lurch finally shook his head and groaned in that deep voice of his. There were even amusing appearances by Tony Shaloub, Nathan Lane, Christine Baransky and Barry Sonenfield himself, to name a few.

My only real gripe, aside from Ricci’s deliver, was how animated Thing is in this film: he/it can do anything. I hated that – it was as though the filmmakers decided that there was too much untapped potential there and decided to give him more screen time, making Thing more gimmicky. A less showy, more subdued omnipresence would have been better.

But those are mere details when one considers all the excellent stuff going: the birth and impact of Pubert on the family, Debbie’s many twisted schemes to marry into and get rich off of the Addams, the annoyingly perky day camp that Wednesday and Pugsley are sent to (which invariably result in a rebellion by the Addams kids, and inspired chaos).

Plus there’s the satire which also serves as social commentary. ‘Addams Family Values’ loves to poke fun at the clichés of modern family dynamics, such as parents comparing their offspring’s achievements, having children but paying someone else to raise them, or even the pretentiousness and entitlement of the well-to-do. These moments were absolute highlights.

‘Addams Family Values’, unlike its predecessors, may be more creepy than kooky, but it’s still rather enjoyable. Unfortunately, it’s just this short of greatness. Had the filmmakers worked on the one-liners more, it might have become a minor classic. As it stands, it’s an excellent take on North America’s most eccentric family, but no more.

It’s just too bad that it was the last with this particular cast: I believe that the filmmakers were well on their way to committing a comical carnival of carnage with this series. Sadly, it was not in the cards. If not for its relative failure at the box office then Raúl Juliá’s passing pronounced the death of this iteration of the family.

Still, Juliá may be gone, but his Gomez is with us forever.

Gomez: “To mirth, to merriment… to manslaughter.”

Post scriptum: The film has a side-story of a budding romance between Wednesday and Joel, a nerd at the camp. I would love to see Christina Ricci and David Krumholtz return as Morticia and Gomez someday. I don’t know if Krumholtz could handle the demands of playing Gomez, but if he is able, this would be a fun way to come full circle. Food for thought…

Story: 8.0
Acting: 7.5
Production: 8.0

Chills: 2.0
Gore: 2.0
Violence: 3.0

Date of viewing:  Oct 3, 2013

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