Today I have a wonderful film from the early 1980s. It’s silly, ridiculous, not the least bit realistic in many ways, but is never the less entertaining. In fact, it is great because of these qualities and not despite them. It typifies the glory of 1980s comedy. It is the fantastic Mr. Mom (1983) written (but not directed) by the late John Hughes.
The Mr. Mom of the title is Michael Keaton, who has been experiencing recent success and press for his work in Birdman. I am keen to see his latest film since I have been a fan of his since my childhood days of watching him play Batman. I was later exposed to him in Beetlejuice (1988) after loving the animated TV show. Mr. Mom is a long way from either of those title roles.
Here Keaton plays an ordinary working father. Jack Butler is an engineer at a Ford factory. One day he and two friends (one played by Christopher Lloyd in a bit part) get laid-off. Jack must now adjust to life at home as his wife, Caroline (played by Terri Garr), is thrown back into the workforce as an employee at an ad agency. Caroline takes to the new job after a successful pitch to a tuna company, but Jack finds the job of a stay at home dad with the responsibilities of cleaning, shopping, and taking care of three kids to be far over his head. A rivalry also brews between Jack and Caroline’s new boss, Ron (played by Martin Mull). Mull’s character has eyes for Caroline despite her obvious disinterest in him. Jack must quickly adapt if he hopes to remain sane amongst a world of confusing school drop-offs, over-stuffed washing machines, multiple house calls by mechanics and plumbers, and, gasp, soap operas.
Jack is played with Keaton’s usual charm and that provides most of the entertainment value. It’s hard to hate Keaton’s character. He’s an average lovable guy who tells bad jokes, gives bad Rocky inspired pep-talks, doesn’t know nearly enough about home improvement as he lets on, and…he’s just imperfect, and he’s a great character for it. He’s not a flawless stand-up comedian who makes hilarious wisecracks. He’s funny but that’s partly because he’s awkward and bumbling.
Ron, who can barely remember Jack’s name, makes a great rival. I’ve always enjoyed Mull and I relish any chance to see him in a leading or prominent supporting role. While Ron is often ahead of Jack’s acts of machismo (perpetrated by Jack to intimidate him), Jack still manages to show Ron up on a few occasions.
What I don’t like about this movie is the ending. Spoilers coming up. Jack eventually gets his job back and Caroline leaves her’s and goes back home. I don’t like this because I wanted Jack to learn that there was nothing wrong with staying at home, which he does, but for him to learn that to only go back to work almost undermines the lesson. I’m probably reading way too much into what is supposed to be a wacky comedy. It just bugs me and makes the ending a let down.
I am amused by Mr. Mom because of the crazy 80s antics – such as a crazy shopping spree where Jack is thoroughly confused, keeps up a deli line, knocks down multiple food displays, and even manages to switch out one of his kids for someone else’s. They don’t make comedies like this anymore. That’s not bad. Times change and so do movies. But it makes it that extra special when I go back and watch movies like this that are so of their time.