Home Video Hovel: Mr. Mom, by David Bax
If you’re maybe a little concerned that a 35 year old movie whose very existence is based on the idea that a man in a domestic role, taking care of his own kids and cleaning his own house, might seem dated today, well, I guess you’re right. So much about Stan Dragoti’s Mr. Mom feels like it comes from another world that it behooves the viewer to actually pretend that it does, teaching us lessons from the distant planet that is our own past.
When Jack Butler (Michael Keaton) gets laid off from his job as an automobile executive, his wife, Caroline (Teri Garr) decides to take the opportunity to go back to work, almost immediately landing a very good job at an advertising firm. While Caroline finds success and attracts the predatory eye of her boss (Martin Mull), Jack learns how to adjust to clipping coupons, ironing clothes, cooking dinner and becoming part of a new social circle of housewives, including a divorcee (Ann Jillian) who has designs on him.
Mr. Mom gives lip service to issues of what we now call “economic anxiety” that ought to be relatable today. But the effort is too thin and the transition for the Butlers is too easy. How are we supposed to sympathize with people who only ever consider working at the executive level? In the early scenes at the auto plant, there’s a slightly more successful attempt to address this and general issues of income inequality, allowing Jack to become the butt of the joke when he tries to relate to the factory workers, who immediately sniff out his bullshit. This pays off with a subtle running joke about the Rocky franchise, culminating in Jack accepting his new place in his family to the tune of “Gonna Fly Now.”
In any case, the bulk of the movie is a haphazardly ordered series of comedic set-pieces. Gawk as Jack can’t figure out how to work the washing machine! Marvel at his frantic attempt to navigate a busy grocery store! Cackle as he becomes addicted to soap operas! It’s all silly and, again, impossible to relate to. But Keaton is a terrific comedic actor and sells most of it. More importantly, the movie is never condescending. Sure, Jack has initial worries that his new role will be a blow to his masculinity. But the movie never agrees with him and never questions the nobility of stay at home parenthood. Shoot, maybe Mr. Mom has more in common with the modern world than I thought.
Shout!’s Blu-ray transfer is grainy and filmic, retaining the texture of Victor J. Kemper’s (Dog Day Afternoon) cinematography, which is surprisingly naturalistic for a broad studio comedy. The mono soundtrack (also available in 5.1) is full-sounding and dynamic.
Special features include a newly produced featurette looking back at the film, featuring producer Lauren Shuler Donner and cast members Jillian, Miriam Flynn, Frederick Koehler and Taliesin Jaffe.