HELICOPTER MOM (2015)

May 21, 2015

helicopter mom Greetings again from the darkness. Just when it seems everything we say or do is offensive to someone and most every topic is considered politically incorrect, a movie shows up that seems to say it’s ok to be offensive if you are trying to make a worthy point. It’s kind of like someone defending their actions by saying “I’m not a racist – I have an African-American friend.”

Helicopter parenting is defined as an overly involved parent who thinks they are best serving their kid by staying involved in every detail of life – from homework to activities to love life. As sad as this phenomenon is, this movie from director Salome Breziner and writer Duke Tran is so exaggerated, a more appropriate title would be Chainsaw Mom. Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) stars as the clueless and relentless single mom obsessed with her son … especially the uncertainties of his sexual orientation.

Ms. Vardalos seems to have patterned her approach to the role after some of the wide-eyed over-the-top characters of Keenan Thompson from “SNL”. This is beyond caricature and it’s also beyond annoying. The character is not believable in any sense, and is fortunately offset by more grounded performances from Jason Dolley, who plays her unfortunate son, and Mark Boone Junior, who plays her ex-husband and his father.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking on a topic like teenage sexual ambiguity/confusion with a comedic approach; however, much of this comes off like a cheesy sitcom. The only thing missing is the laugh track … and maybe Vardalos hiding behind a potted plant while wearing Groucho glasses and mustache. I say maybe, because it’s possible the latter occurred during one of the many segments where I was rolling my eyes or shaking my head in disbelief.

Fortunately, there were some genuine father and son moments between Dolley and Boone. In fact, Boone’s performance is so good, it’s like someone changed the channel every time his character appears. Dolley and Skyler Samuels (The Duff) also have some very sweet and believable scenes together. It’s just a shame that a moment as poignant as the confused son asking his father “When did you know you were straight?” is offset by mom publicly humiliating her kid and herself in yet another unimaginable display of inappropriate and cartoonish behavior.

The supporting cast also includes Kate Flannery (TV’s “The Office”), Gillian Vigman (The Hangover), and Dallas’ own Hockaday girl Lisa Loeb – who has a role as a teacher, and wrote the song for the opening credits.

Confusion over sexual orientation in teenagers is certainly a topic worthy of film treatment, as is the cultural phenomenon of helicopter parenting. The slapstick comedy approach seems to overwhelm the first message, while the 1980’s sitcom style destroys any commentary on the second.  The only person who thinks a boy’s best friend is his mother is Norman Bates. And Hitchcock showed us how that turns out.

watch the trailer:

 


THE DUFF (2015)

February 18, 2015

duff Greetings again from the darkness. I was never a teenage girl, and for that, I am quite thankful. By comparison, being a teenage guy was a breeze. No filmmaker was better than the great John Hughes at capturing the challenges of high school … especially for girls. The mysteries of adolescent social hierarchy has long been a favorite movie target, and director Ari Sandel (Oscar winner for his short film West Bank Story) and screenwriter Josh Cagan loosely base their film on the novel from Kody Keplinger.

Mae Whitman (from TV’s “Parenthood”) stars as Bianca, a very smart student who enjoys hanging with her two best friends Casey (Bianca Santos, Ouija) and Jess (Skyler Samuels). That all changes one evening at a party when Bianca’s neighbor, and the school’s alpha-jock, Wesley (Robbie Amell, Firestorm in TV’s “The Flash”), informs her that she is the titular “DUFF” … Designated Ugly Fat Friend. The term itself is quite offensive, but the movie does its best to soften the blow by explaining that it doesn’t necessarily mean ugly or fat – a confusing turn, but fortunate since Ms. Whitman is neither.

As you might imagine, the familiar terrain of teen angst movies is covered and any hope of real insight is dashed pretty early on. However, it does spend a significant amount of time driving home the point that social media plays a dominant role in every aspect of teen life these days, including cyber-bullying. It’s no wonder that insecurities abound … one never knows when their trip to the mall or make-out session with a mannequin will become a viral video.

There are familiar aspects of such classics as Pretty in Pink, She’s All That, and Mean Girls. Robbie Amell even looks very much like Michael Schoeffling from Sixteen Candles. However, the film features two of my movie pet peeves. First, Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell are both in their mid-20’s – entirely too old to be playing high school students. Secondly, Mr Amell plays a jock but clearly cannot throw a football like one – and he does it three cringe-inducing times.

Mae Whitman has excellent screen presence and comes across as a blend of Janeane Garofalo, Ellen Page, and Aubrey Plaza. That’s pretty high praise, but she elevates a script that needs it, and holds her own with screen vets like Allison Janney (as her distracted mom) and Ken Jeong (as her slightly loopy journalism teacher).

The film is a commentary on today’s high school life, but the predictability and obvious gags prevent it from ever going too deep or appealing to any audience other than “tweeners”. Still, any film that smacks down the nasty people (here played by Bella Thorne) and advises to be true to one’s self, can’t be all bad.

watch the trailer: