RV

| May 12, 2006

Barry Sonnenfeld’s R.V. isn’t completely awful, though the reviews will make you think otherwise. The main characters (excluding the children) are reasonably likeable and the film creates plenty of obstacles to our hero’s journey. Despite this, though, the movie is simply boring.
Too long and too predictable, the genuine laughs are few and far between. Watching the film the weekend after it won the box office competition, I sat in the theatre with only twelve other people. Watching these twelve people enter the theatre, the snobby film critic in me wondered who goes to see this film and why–I thought understanding why audiences choose to see a film like this may help me evaluate its success on its own terms.
The couple behind me brought their two children, and as young parents, they likely don’t have much time to see movies. R.V. allows them an afternoon out with the kids: no profanity, vague and infrequent references to sex, and a message that family is more important than career and money. But do they see their own world reflected back at them, or do they merely escape into a hyper realized world known as “the American Family Vacation”?
Robin Williams, known for schizophrenic energy, falls flat here as patriarch Bob Munro. The film graciously acknowledges the age difference between he and his wife, but Bob’s mid-life crisis never reaches enough of a crisis stage. Bob fears being supplanted by the young guy at work, but even his boss (Will Arnett from Arrested Development) admits that Bob has skills the young guy simply can’t match. He feels detached from his children, but he and his wife continue to enjoy martinis at night (sidebar: what modern married couple mixes up a couple of martinis in the evening? This bugged me in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and it bugged me even more here). With the stakes so diluted, Williams’ character gets stuck in an energy-sucking malaise.
Even worse, the script does not allow him to engage other characters head-on. For instance, Bob seems afraid of his own children. When his daughter’s friend insults and humiliates his boss, Bob lurks outside his daughter’s room hoping she will grant him an audience. The children are rude, sullen, and ungrateful, but Bob and his wife seem prepared to wait it out–apparently hoping that someday their kids will snap out of it and appreciate them again. Luckily Bob and his wife (Cheryl Hines of Curb Your Enthusiasm) exist in the world of movies, where archaic gender and family stereotypes reign supreme, so everything works out okay (phew! I was really worried for a second there.)
The script by relative newcomer Geoff Rodkey (Daddy Day Care) offers one moment of honesty, when Bob threatens his family with the loss of their lifestyle should he not play patsy to his boss. Unfortunately, the moment is merely that: a brief question after which little reflection takes place. But the question has value: what is the price of a different way of life?
The foil for the Munros are the Gornickes: a family of five that travel in a flashy red R.V: home schooling their children, making money selling things over the phone, and sacrificing material goods for the satisfaction of a happy home life. Does Bob determine to adopt the Gornicke’s way of life? No. The film eschews that question by inserting a deus ex machine to save the day with a job offer for Bob, yet I can’t help but wonder what would happen had the Munros been forced into relative poverty. Would the family bond survive that? Unfortunately, R.V. is not a brave film trying to question the values of Middle America. Instead it offers cheap jokes, easy gimmicks, and tired plotting.

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