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MR. MOM

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: This delightful ’80s comedy received a recent revival of sorts with its upgrade to Blu-ray, courtesy of the Shout! Factory, and, despite some dated elements, it’s still fun today. Here’s my Aug. 10, 1983, Deseret News review. Note that a pre-‘Back to the Future’ Christopher Lloyd has a supporting role and the script is by John Hughes, before ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ or his run of successful teen comedies, which began a year later with ‘Sixteen Candles.’

OK, so “Mr. Mom” is often very contrived, and admittedly it looks more like a made-for-TV movie than a big-screen theatrical venture. But thanks to the charm of the performers and some very funny moments, this light-hearted comic look at role-reversal manages to be a very enjoyable film despite some obvious flaws.

Michael Keaton, a glib, quick-tongued comic who made his hilarious screen debut in the otherwise forgettable “Night Shift” last year, stars here as the hapless husband. He is more than just a Dagwood Bumstead, or the kind of husband Fred MacMurray played in the old Disney comedies. Keaton benefits not only from excellent comic timing but also projects an innocence, a vulnerability that is very endearing to the audience. And we get to see him grow here as a fully developed human being instead of just a cartoon Daddy.

The delightful Teri Garr co-stars, and she too displays her terrific comic abilities and develops her character beyond the superficialities of the script. And though the action clearly focuses on Keaton, Garr helps the film enormously.

     

       Teri Garr, Michael Keaton and brood in 'Mr. Mom.'

They are husband and wife, living in a suburb of Detroit where Keaton is an autoworker. When he’s laid off from his job, Garr goes to work for an ad agency and Keaton takes over the household duties.

As far as the story goes, that’s just about it. In the beginning, Keaton is the world’s worst homemaker but he gradually works into the job — and that’s what most of the movie is about. We do see Garr at work, too, as she wins over a difficult account and tries to keep her egotistical boss (Martin Mull) at arm’s length.

The message here is a simple one, about the importance of family and home life as opposed to success in the business world, and it’s also told quite simply. It would be nice to see some real struggle here with what it means to make the big switch, but aside from Keaton going into “housewife’s depression,” it’s never really explored. The emphasis here is on laughs, and though “Mr. Mom” occasionally strains to achieve them, sinking into silly and occasionally downright idiotic moments, for the most part the subject is handled entertainingly.

The script is somewhat hit and miss, about par for John Hughes, who has also given us “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and “National Lampoon’s Class Reunion,” as well as being a contributing editor to the Lampoon magazine for some years. And director Stan Dragoti, whose “Love at First Bite” was very popular, still hasn’t learned much about opening up a film for the big screen, though he has a gift for comic timing.

The ending is contrived (as are several scenes elsewhere), the pace gets a bit sluggish in places and the humor occasionally threatens to become “Airplane!”-style off-the-wall surrealism (as when Keaton does battle with and then tames a vacuum cleaner dubbed “Jaws”).

     

                         Michael Keaton, 'Mr. Mom'

But there are many individual moments that will bring a laugh and ring true to any husband who has taken over the household for any length of time. Wives will also cringe in memory of those times.

Still, it’s hard to imagine “Mr. Mom” being as good as it is but for the special talents of Keaton and Garr, and to a lesser extent, Mull. (Ann Jillian is also on hand as a sex-starved divorcee and the rest of the supporting cast is very good as well.) They carry the proceedings nicely and bring to the material some hilarious interpretations, and Keaton in particular proves that “Night Shift” was no fluke. He’s a very funny guy.

Further, Keaton and Garr have a chemistry together that is very convincing — you’ll believe they are a settled-in married couple still very much in love. And I have to admit, it’s nice to see an endorsement of marriage and loyalty and fidelity — rare commodities on the screen these days.

Rated PG for a profanity or two, a few sex jokes and a brief scene in a male strip joint, “Mr. Mom” is tastefully handled and often very funny. And just seeing Keaton and Garr is well worth the admission price.