Mr. Mom

Mr. Mom (1983)
★★ / ★★★★

Furloughed from his job as a car engineer, Jack (Michael Keaton) must now stay home with his three young children (Fred Koehler, Taliesin Jaffe, Courtney and Brittany White) while his wife, Caroline (Teri Garr), works for an ad agency. Completely unfamiliar with housework and his kids’ routine, Jack struggles while his wife flourishes in her new job.

Written by John Hughes and directed by Stan Dragoti, “Mr. Mom” is a time capsule, a look in an ancient time where men bring home the bacon and women stayed at home to raise the children. While the picture is amusing from time to time, there is little dramatic core. As a result, when the more sensitive moments come around, it is difficult to completely buy into the pain and frustrations of its characters.

The writing is safe and by-the-numbers. Of course we must see Jack being out of his comfort zone as a stay-at-home-dad and of course we must see him become very good in his new role. There are one or two very funny sequences—like the scene involving a vacuum, a stove, and a washing machine—but the writing seems stuck on showing behavior rather than a subtle shift of mindset. For instance, I wanted to see more scenes of the father connecting with his kids, having a genuine conversation with them, rather than yet another slapstick involving paint, cooking, and the house ending up a mess.

Keaton does a lot with how little he is given. Even trite scenes like his character talking to a mirror as he weighs the pros and cons of possibly being involved in an affair have a sense of whimsy to it because the actor finds a way to make the situation fun even though not once do we believe something like that can happen in real life. It is in the way he plays with the delivery and the inflections he employs with certain lines, compounded with a body language that is often unassuming. Thus, when the character tries to play extremes—like trying to come off very masculine toward his wife’s boss (Martin Mull)—the humor works effectively.

Scenes involving Joan (Ann Jillian), a neighbor who hopes to seduce Jack, are borderline dead. The seduction is not only forced, it is also inappropriate in a movie like this. Because of its generally playful tone, one cannot be blamed for thinking that it is all right for children to see the picture. Joan wanting to bed Jack is uncomfortable and out of place. I expected more from Hughes—he is the writer, after all—especially since the film is supposed to be for the entire family.

“Mr. Mom” is a product of the eighties but it manages to retain a level of amusement, especially because of Keaton’s ability to make fresh choices. If the script had focused more on complex emotions rather than superficial emotions and behavior, it might have had more staying power. More importantly, it would have been a better movie.

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