What happens when you review thirty year old films from the perspective of someone who gets classified as a millennial, but wouldn’t really consider himself one? With both popular and obscure films on the list, it’s a mixture of new insights into old films, all while celebrating what might just be the greatest decade ever. This is The Eighties Fever.
Viewing: First Time
I know Michael Keaton nowadays more for his turns as Ray Kroc in The Founder and the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming over any of his ’80s works. I am terribly behind on the Keaton ’80s classics; all I have seen fully of his is The Dream Team. However, in just watching these two films, it is clear Keaton has impeccable comedic timing. Pair that with a zany, yet sane premise such as Mr. Mom and you are half way there to cooking up an underrated ’80s comedy. I often call the eighties the best decade for film, and if people disagree with that statement, I counter that it was certainly the best idea for original, and often crazy, ideas to get made (look no further than Xtro). Mr. Mom may have gotten lost in the shuffle, but it is one film that deserves to be talked about.
Keaton stars as Jack Butler, an engineer at the Ford Motor Company in Detroit during the early 1980s recession that is laid off. Luckily, his wife Caroline (Teri Garr) finds an advertising job leaving Jack to look after their three children: Alex, Kenny, and Megan. Jack soon realizes that taking care of the kids and household is not as easy as it looks and the hardship begins to show on him. He gains weight, grows a beard, and wears his favorite cardigan for two weeks straight. Add that on top of Caroline’s long hours at the advertising firm after landing a huge tuna client, and there is some severe marital strain between the two lovers.
A lot of the comedy from Mr. Mom stems around Jack getting himself into various situations. At first he dismisses soap operas, finding it hard to believe people bother with them. However, Jack soon becomes glued to The Young and the Restless and this leads into a great dream scenario with Jack being seduced by Joan (Ann Jillian), another housewife, only for Caroline to arrive home early. This leads Caroline to pull out a gun, with a silencer, and attempt to murder Jack or Caroline (it was not really clear), only for there to be a struggle and Jack being shot. Jack stumbles around and then falls into an already drawn outline on the floor. Keaton, Garr, and Jillian act out the scene in pure soap opera over exaggeration.
Another scene involves Jack getting things whipped into shape (including himself) while a rendition of Rocky‘s “Gonna Fly Now” plays in the background. It calls back to earlier in the film when Jack was talking to some Ford employees about going to see a Rocky film with his wife and using it as a bad analogy for never giving up. Even later, we see a Rocky III poster hanging in the boys’ bedroom. I cannot pinpoint a behind-the-scenes connection between the two films, but, needless to say, “Gonna Fly Now” always works as the song to play when a character needs to get in a shape, or improve his life for the better.
That is the key to Mr. Mom, it does not take itself too seriously. We are able to laugh at Jack’s expense as he struggles looking after three young children and doing simple tasks like the laundry or grocery shopping. However, it would have been easy for Jack to fail at being Mr. Mom and have Caroline return home to take her place as the Mom. This film succeeds by showing that Jack can adapt to being a stay-at-home mom while Caroline can thrive in a work environment. Despite the fact they return to their original roles by the film’s end, the journey both characters go on is one of eye-opening growth.
John Hughes received a writing credit for Mr. Mom despite it looking like several writers were brought into rewrite his original script. However, it is quite easy to notice some Hughes dialogue here and there and see his fingerprints over the finished product. Hughes did not really blow up until 1984’s Sixteen Candles, and I would argue Keaton did not really have another memorable role like this until 1988’s Beetlejuice; yet, it is interesting that two ’80s icons are connected to this underrated masterpiece.
I often say I like eighties’ films because they take it easy. The plot is not too convoluted, spectacle was not placed above an emphasis for character development, but, overall, these movies had fun infused into their DNA. I mean, how can you not have fun watching Jack and a bunch of houswives play poker using coupons as chips, there is just so much to enjoy. Whether or not you view the ending as misogynistic or sexist (personally, I do not), Mr. Mom is a film you can pop in and just watch with ease. As I mentioned when reviewing Cocktail, if a film can make me smile, laugh, and make time fly then it has done its job. Mr. Mom accomplished all that in spades.
So throw in a load of laundry and watch this film. Or else Jaws the vacuum will come for you.