Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Mom and Dad (2017)

The Ryans are probably your typical movie white suburban family. Looking pretty rich to someone like me, they are still a friendly bubble of neuroses: father Brent (Nicolas Cage) is deep in the throes of a male midlife crisis with added existential dread, mother Kendall (Selma Blair) has the version of it allowed to women, while teenage daughter Carly (Anne Winters) and younger son Josh (Zackary Arthur) show all the symptoms of their respective ages. But hey, these people do seem to love each other even when they are making their lives about as much worse as they make them better.

Alas, a mysterious syndrome possibly caused by alien invaders or terrorists hits the USA (like so many American films about apocalyptic events, Mom and Dad never bothers to even acknowledge the existence of the larger part of the world), and soon all that precious parental love all parents apparently carry turns into murderous, insane rage. The Ryan kids and Carly’s boyfriend Damon (Robert T. Cunningham) - who will spend much of the film battered and unconscious only to repeatedly pop up to save everyone’s bacon and then get knocked down again in what I’m not too sure is actually supposed to be a running gag – will have a hell of a time surviving the day.

Mom and Dad’s director and writer is Brian Taylor, one half of Neveldine/Taylor, so nobody should go into this one expecting an ultra-serious film about generational gaps expressed through bloody violence. Instead, it’s mix of not exactly subtle, sardonic suburban satire, some mild splatstick, with a smidgen of disturbing moments that can turn grotesque and darkly funny at a moments notice, and an occasional sense of creepiness mostly based on the elder Ryans still acting like a suburban couple even when they are attempting to murder their children. They are very bourgeois child murderers, is what I’m saying.

The film does have a handful of serious scenes among the carnage, and the scenes of Cage and Blair running around shouting wildly, moments that handle the emptiness of these oh so unhappy rich people and their lives rather delicately, and to my great surprise – given Taylor’s general predilections for not having a single human being in his movies - effectively. While he’s playing crazy in the patented Cage style I rather love, the actor does also have some quiet moments he handles with equal effectiveness to suggest that Brent really was pretty close to murdering his family even before whatever happened to suburbia happened. Blair’s performance is more subtle, suggesting more complexity to Kendall than to Cage’s character, while avoiding getting drowned out by Crazy Cage; she’s also great in her creepy moments, selling the emotional horror involved.

It is interesting to for once watch a film that reverses the more typical evil kid trope, which of course allows a different kind of critique of the suburban US lifestyle by actually keeping the usual family power dynamics.

While all this doesn’t quite add up to a film I outright love – that would need a greater shift away from the blunt satire to the emotional horrors of the story – Mom and Dad is a highly enjoyable, sometimes disturbing, often very funny, piece that runs along sprightly and looks stylish without being overstyled while giving a fine showcase for Blair’s and Cage’s talents. Plus, there’s a fun appearance by the great Lance Henriksen as Nicolas Cage’s father, a casting decision so brilliant, I want to hug the people responsible for it.

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