Mr. Mom

Mr. MomSynopsis: Funnyman Michael Keaton (Beetlejuice) teams with Tootsie’s Teri Garr in this “fresh and funny audience pleaser” (Boxoffice) that’s all housework…and no pay! Jack and Caroline Butler (Keaton and Garr) are perfectly happy with their roles in life…until a layoff makes him a househusband and her a working wife! And while she wrangles with charts, graphs and an all-to-eager-to-be-wrangled boss, he has to contend with their hyper kids, a ravenous vacuum cleaner, an angry washing machine and an oversexed neighbor (Ann Jillian of TV’s “It’s A Living”)! From late nights in the boardroom to lonely nights in the bedroom, the biggest challenge for both Jack and Caroline is learning to trust one another with their reversed roles…which they’d better do quickly…before Mr. Mom becomes Mr. Single Mom!

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Mr. Mom 7.25

eyelights: the cast. the script.
eyesores: the third act.

“Are you crazy? You don’t feed a baby chili!”

‘Mr. Mom’ is one of those movies that is long forgotten, even though it’s one of the biggest box office hits of 1983. It was also the first leading role for Michael Keaton, who was then hot off the success of ‘Night Shift’, in which he co-starred with Henry Winkler.

I remember seeing it many times over when I was a kid. Once in a while, we would rent a VCR and a few films and, being a novelty, I would rewatch the few movies we got – especially the ones that I really liked, which I would watch over and over and over again.

‘Mr. Mom’ was one of them.

I don’t remember how often I saw it back then and how long it’s been since I last watched it, but it was a lot and it’s been a long time – but not long enough that I lost any affection for it. To this day, I think of ‘Mr. Mom’ as a simple but charming family comedy.

Last year, while buying a gazillion DVDs at the local pawn shop, I stumbled upon a copy of this movie. One of my best friends was a new dad and I thought it would make for a silly birthday gift (you know, as a filler). But I ensured to make myself a back-up beforehand.

With Father’s Day looming, I thought it might be a gas to revisit the picture some 30-35 years later.

I was surprised by how much I still like it. The friend I had bought it for watched it and told me it was crap, but I thought it was a lovely light comedy with some goofy moments in it; it’s quite typical of the sort of thing one got during the ’80s, except for its quality.

Part of it comes from John Hughes’ script, no doubt, even though it was apparently re-written: it tells the story of a car engineer who gets laid off due to cutback at his company and finds himself a stay-at-home dad after his spouse lands a new job before he does.

Now the full-time caregiver for two pre-teen boys and a toddler, he’s learning the hard way what it takes to raise a family – and not doing it gracefully. Let’s just say that it’s a learning curve, and what may have seemed easy at first ends up being much more complicated.

The first taste of this is when he drops off one of his sons at school, not realizing that there’s a specific procedure for doing so, and frustrating everyone. Or when he goes grocery shopping for the first time and knocks everything over – and even loses his kids.

Some of it may seem typical of this sort of comedy, but it’s the way that it’s staged that is amusing: at one point, Jack realizes that his son’s been swapped with another. Somehow. So he goes off to retrieve him, returning the other boy – only to then find his daughter missing.

Nice.

Or when he gets fired. The stage is set by showing Jack and his friends carpooling to work, having a grand ol’ time – until the one who is the other three’s supervisor later has to announce their layoff, that is. Their spontaneous reaction to his betrayal is predictable but amusing.

Michael Keaton does a terrific job of playing the everyman here, much in the way that Tom Hanks does. He plays Jack smart, capable, but grounded and self-reflective. You totally buy into the character; he doesn’t seem far-fetched or played up to heighten the comedy or drama.

Keaton is paired up with Teri Garr, who does a fine job playing a woman sky-rocketing to the top of her profession whilst remaining level-headed. She’s fine, but it’s unbelievable just how she succeeds. The actors playing their kids are also terrific, being both cute and intelligent.

Some of my favourite moments in Mr. Mom are the goofiest, such as when Jack loses all self-respect, grows a beard, starts to watch soap operas and irons his son’s grilled cheese sandwich or staples the other’s torn blankie because he can’t be bothered to do anything properly.

There’s also a droll moment when Jack gets caught up in a storm when three different repairpeople show up at his house at once while he’s already juggling a bunch of responsibilities. It’s very much farce material, but it’s not dialed up in the typically overzealous fashion.

Clichés abound in this picture, such as Jack feeling threatened by Caroline’s new boss, and Caroline feeling threatened when one of her divorced friends gets close to Jack (and finally losing it when he invites the girls over for poker night – but gambling for coupons, not cash, naturally).

But there are also attempts at breaking stereotypes, such as having the TV repairperson be a woman instead of a man. And just the fact that the film is based on a role reversal shows an attempt by the filmmakers to try to show both sides of the coin, something that I always appreciate.

My only real issues with the picture are the fact that Jack’s eldest son suddenly spends all his days at home instead of going to school, and the third act, which lacks the laughs you’d want; instead the drama is dialed up a little to give the characters redemption in the finale.

Otherwise, I rather enjoyed ‘Mr Mom’; even after all these years, it’s produced a few well-placed laughs. It’s no grand cinema, and it’s certainly not Michael Keaton or John Hughes’ greatest achievements, but anyone who enjoys classic ’40s comedies should enjoy this modern spin.

Date of viewing: April 28, 2015

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