Mr. Mom (1983)

When watching Mr. Mom only now, over thirty years after the fact, it very quickly becomes clear that a lot of it is going to feel both horribly dated as well terrible cliché when looking at it through the futuristic lens of current day 2015-O-Vision. That’s unavoidable in a case like this, where the subject is something as controversial and outlandish as this: the dad, Michael Keaton, gets laid off from his job and has to swap places with his wife, so now he stays at home to take care of the kids and the daily chores while his wife becomes the new bread earner of the household. Enter the aptly named Mr. Mom! Man, I can literally feel being emasculated by this movie as I write this. Kidding aside, while it’s a pretty bland as far as the premise goes, it’s not as bad as you might expect it to be. I mean, it’s got Michael Keaton starring in a comedic role and while the idea itself fails to really impress by today’s standards, it’s not particularly awful or hamfisted.

The first half of the movie is still pretty stale. Keaton goes through the mandatory motions of getting into wacky situations when he initially fails in every single chore he tries to do, be it taking the kids to school or vacuuming (pinnacle of exciting cinema, folks), but once we reach the second half of the movie where, you know, we get some actual plot and character development thrown into the mix, it actually improves considerably. The movie even manages to be rather funny at times. This is where you start to see some clever writing finally, as you get sequences where Keaton, for instance, ends up dreaming that his life has turned into a cheesy TV soap opera, down to the ridiculous plot twists where he gets shot by his wife. It’s gleefully ironic and tongue in cheek, and suitably perks up the story. I also quite liked how around this time, after Keaton’s character has gotten used to his daily household chores, you start to see him finally settling in and forming a new life around his new stay at home dad status quo. Of course, since he’s a manly 80s guy, that still needs to manifest in the form of him holding a regular poker game with the other moms from the neighborhood, with beer and cigars. In a delightful little detail to this scene, the players are shown playing for grocery discount coupons instead of money. There’s another nice little gag when Keaton starts to get his metaphorical shit together after he’s gotten good at being a homemaker and he’s subsequently turned into a bit of slob, which is subtly cued to you by the fact that he’s grown a hideous looking beard, always wears a plaid lumberjack shirt and he’s a bit chubby looking. The gag starts by playing the training montage theme from Rocky, but instead of seeing Keaton boxing in the meat freezer and running stairs really well, Keaton mans up by shaving his beard clean off and does multitude of mundane chores around the house in a little montage where he’s transformed into a homemaking hero. It’s pretty adorable and cheesy as hell.

Well, I guess it’s time for the cons now. Frankly, there aren’t that many, but some of the rampant clichés in the script are pretty agonizing to live through. You have the token ‘the boss wants to get into the wife’s panties’ trope, which you not only see coming a mile away the minute the boss is introduced, but it never really builds any real tension to the story and in the end it feels a bit superfluous padding, so it ends up being just another annoying check on the list of tropes that this movie is filled with. It’s also a bit tedious to see so many painfully obvious and overused jokes used in the story, like for example Keaton, being a real man rather than one that does chores, apparently has no idea how to do simple shopping at a supermarket, nor does he not know how to use the washing machine. As you immediately might have guessed, these things immediately lead to trouble.But to be fair, Mr. Mom actually manages to occasionally sprinkle some originality into these old jokes, so it’s not all terrible. I did actually find myself chuckling a little when Keaton decides to cut corners when trying to do the laundry for the first time by mixing all the detergents he finds from the nearby table with fabric softener, creating this really sticky goo that he then pours into the machine, thinking it will safe time and is more effective. It was a nice variation of the old joke and even has a different punchline: rather than putting a ridiculous amount of detergent into the machine and then having the machine overflow with foam, the washing machine instead starts rattling around erratically, looking like a rabid animal, until it eventually strays so far from the wall it manages to unhook the waterlines attached to it and Keaton has to combat the overflowing water that’s shooting straight at him when he tries to get to the water valve and shut the water down.

Overall, the movie is not really anything to write home about, but it’s OK if you have nothing better to do. To me, it mainly worked as a sort of a curiosity watch. You see, when Keaton was first cast as Bruce Wayne in Tim Burton’s late 80s gritty reinterpretation of the caped crusader, it was considered a controversial casting choice at the time due to Michael Keaton being largely knows only as a comedy actor. Since first hearing about that little tidbit, I have for the longest time wondered what it must have been like to be there to experience the shocking announcement that the guy from Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice was going to be the new Batman. And now that I’ve seen Mr. Mom and asked that question out loud immediately after the credits started, I have the answer: It’s jarring as hell. Even with the knowledge that the films were actually pretty great, it feels very hard to picture Keaton as Batman. Scratch that down as another thought experiment successfully completed.


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