After Michael Keaton’s outrageously successful turn in Birdman and his hilarious stint hosting SNL in March 2015,* Sally and I decided to venture into some of Keaton’s earlier comedic work. Of course everyone knows about his performance in Tim Burton’s Batman films and Beetlejuice, but I’m not sure everyone is aware of his work before Batman made him a huge star.
Mr. Mom was very original for its time. In the early 80s, traditional gender roles were still the norm, and the thought of a ‘stay-at-home dad’ with a wife being the main breadwinner was definitely not common. Keaton stars as Jack, a recently laid off car manufacturer in Detroit (how topical given what that city is currently going through). When his wife Caroline (Teri Garr) is able to secure a job using her relatively unused college degree, Jack volunteers to be a stay at home dad while his wife earns the big bucks. Jack soon learns that looking after their three children is much tougher than he expected. There are several mine fields he has to get through, from dropping the kids off at school to the weekly grocery store visit. Jack must also deal with the jealousy he harbours from the fact his wife is now the money earner. Meanwhile, Caroline deals with her fair share of hardship as she enters the male dominated corporate world and finds herself a bit out of her depth to begin with. She slowly starts to finds her feet as a working woman, while fending of advances from her sexist boss (Martin Mull) and constantly being singled out as a newcomer.
I know this movie seems like a sitcom premise, but what saves it is the performance of Keaton and the fact it was written by the always wonderful John Hughes. I think that’s enough of a recommendation for me: John Hughes and Michael Keaton at the top of their game. You can’t really ask for much more, but we can. This movie does feel like somewhat of a product of its time. In the 80s, it was cutting edge to suggest a dad would stay at home with the kids, but it is certainly not as out of place today as it once was. Despite this, if you can enjoy this movie for what it is, particularly the performance of Keaton and Teri Garr, you will enjoy yourself.
I’m really glad Michael Keaton has had such a huge comeback after Birdman. Going back and watching some of his earlier work was a nice reminder that he is a very funny actor and probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves outside of Batman and Beetlejuice.
I recommended Ben purchase Mr. Mom after Michael Keaton’s Best Actor nomination in Birdman. Having not grown up watching Batman or Beetlejuice, this was the only early Keaton movie I was familiar with.
Mr. Mom is funny, but it’s definitely a product of the 1980s. It’s a John Hughes film (a fact I wasn’t aware of until this most recent viewing), so that alone dates it. Nobody I can think of now is making the kind of comedy that Hughes specialized in. Mom‘s humor ranges from witty banter to broad visual gags, with an underlying vein of sweetness running throughout. Comedies now are more jaded and world weary.
The premise of Mom is surprisingly current, but it’s execution is where the film shows its age. Keaton plays Jack, who gets fired from his engineering job at Ford during a recession. Instead of jumping back into work, he and his wife (Teri Garr) decide it’s her turn to be the breadwinner, leaving Jack to take over as the stay-at-home parent. This story sounds all too familiar in 2016, and actually dovetails with current trends in work and care giving.
Unfortunately, the depiction of fatherhood presented is rooted firmly in the 1980s. Jack is clueless about nearly everything. He can barely change a diaper, his culinary skills are lacking, he can’t even drop his son off at school correctly. While I’d love to say that television and film are much better at portraying fathers now, that’s not the case. Even as more men proudly identify as stay-at-home dads, TV shows and movies still see them as generally incompetent. I never expected Mr. Mom to rise above this outdated trope (after all, the concept of a stay-at-home dad would have sounded crazy in the 80s), it’s just disappointing that we haven’t moved further away from what this movie shows.
The real genius of Mr. Mom is in its casting. Keaton is a gem. The more I delve into his filmography the more I love him. He’s an actor who has done everything– comedy, action, drama, voice acting– and does it all well. Teri Garr also shines as the mother trying to balance career and parenthood (another still familiar concept whose portrayal here is also full of 1980s sexism). I also enjoyed the myriad of supporting characters who filter through the movie, including the talents of Jeffery Tambor and Christopher Lloyd.
Mr. Mom may be dated, but it’s still a lot of fun. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to set aside your contemporary filters and enjoy it for what it is. This is John Hughes at his peak (was he ever not at his peak?) and Michael Keaton on the cusp of stardom. What more could you want?
*This was written before the release of Spotlight, but as I’ve been slack writing and posting reviews it’s just now being posted. Rest assured that we also loved Michael Keaton in that movie, and will be reviewing it when we finally make it to the letter S.