Mr. Mom

| September 4, 2017

Who ever heard of a man looking after the kids while his wife brings home the bacon? What is this, some kind of Bizzaro world? The Soviet Union maybe?!

People of a certain age (say, my age) and older remember a time when looking after the kids and taking care of the house was “Mom’s job” while Dad went to work. These gender norms were hard-coded into our culture and even today people are so tied to these outdated notions that I occasionally get questioned by old ladies when out in public with my son regarding the location of his mother and why she’s not with us. A movie like the John Hughes-scripted Mr. Mom (1983) sprung forth from the clearly ludicrous assumption that all household duties are a woman’s, and it’s a film that, were it made today, simply wouldn’t work as well as it did in the early 1980’s as even the most rural of housewives were starting to head off to work. Heck, if Hughes had written the script even two or three years later, I bet the film wouldn’t have been produced.

Mr. Mom was a mainstay on cable television when I was growing up. Before rewatching the film for this review, I hadn’t seen it what must have been 20 years at least. I had fond memories of it, sure, but the sort of vague fond memories you have of early childhood experiences, defined more by an impression than so many specifics. The most I could have recalled specifically two weeks was that it starred Michael Keaton (in his first film-carrying lead role), Teri Garr and someone who I was pretty sure was Martin Mull (it is, by the way). I just remembered liking it as a kid is all.

Films like that I tend to leave in the past, especially when their subjects are so timely and dated as I recalled Mr. Mom’s having been. I figure it’s best a film be remembered fondly than re-experienced and found to be lacking, as is so often the case. I mean, how funny could a 34-year-old comedy about a man learning to vacuum and change diapers really be in the modern era, even if it has Michael Keaton in it? Then, there came the shock of hearing that Shout Factory was putting out a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray of Mr. Mom on their Shout Select line and I thought, “maybe there’s something to this Mr. Mom thing after all.”

What I found in the earliest sequences of Mr. Mom upon revisiting it on this Collector’s Edition Blu-ray was every bit as infuriating as I’d imagined it would be. “What, he’s never been to a grocery store?” I yelled at the screen. “He doesn’t know how to bathe his own children?!” Most of the comedy in the film’s first half stems from situations that absurd. And while I laughed, I also found myself flummoxed thinking that Jack’s (Keaton) problems might really have resonated with the era’s audiences.

Fortunately, though Jack’s apparent inability to function as a person outside of going to work and going to bed is hilarious, it’s also treats the issues addressed with surprising intelligence. It tackles ordinary family stressors in a comedic light and turns society’s gender roles on their head in a way that both challenges the norm and yet celebrates the strength it takes to provide for one’s family, whether at home or in the workplace. Granted, the film’s resolution may work to reinforce traditional gender roles in a way I’m not entirely comfortable with. Still, the film works hard to paint absentee fathers like Jack as ludicrously unfit people in general and parents specifically. And in doing so, I can’t help but think Mr. Mom must have been a force for social good in its time, dated though it may appear today.

The Shout Select Collector’s Edition of Mr. Mom boasts a transfer far cleaner and sharper than you’d ever expect to see for a film of its age and type, so hats off to Shout for treating the film with such respect as they produced the release. Special features are sadly quite limited, however, including simply the theatrical trailer and the half hour-long “A Look Back at Mr. Mom” documentary, featuring interviews with many of the film’s co-stars and producer Lauren Shuler Donner. “A Look Back at Mr. Mom” really is worth a watch itself, as it offers up so much insight into the film’s origins and production. The most incredible thing I learned from the documentary (which I now realize is on the back of the case too) is that John Hughes based the script on his own experiences being left at home with the kids for the first time, having apparently never been to the grocery store by himself before even!

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
Filed in: Video and DVD

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.