[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 19 – Parents (1989)

Director: Bob Balaban
Cast: Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt, Sandy Dennis
Screenplay: Christopher Hawthorne
81 mins. Rated R.

Can any of us really trust our parents? Especially if Randy Quaid (Brokeback Mountain, All You Can Eat?) is one of them?

Set in the 1950s, this satire looks at the Laemle family. On the outside, they look like the picture perfect family, with father Nick (Quaid) in line for a new promotion housewife Lilly (Mary Beth Hurt, Lady in the Water, Change in the Air) the perfect little cook. The Laemle parents have a secret that even son Michael is unaware of, though, and he is soon to discover that his family’s taste is a little more bloodthirsty than most.

I really wanted to love Parents. I remember seeing the poster and thinking that this was right down my alley, but unfortunately, even with the gifted talents of director Bob Balaban (Fishkill, Georgia O’Keefe) is a bit of a dud. Don’t get me wrong, the film has its strong points, but it wrestles over tone and intention throughout.

First off, I really enjoyed the unhinged performances by both parents, particularly Quaid. It seems like this film, Vacation, and Independence Day all perfectly captured the complicated actor’s skills. He’s unusual, funny, and unnerving throughout. Mary Beth Hurt has more of a switch to her performance, where she is able to shift from loving and caring to psychotic and calculating.

I also really enjoyed the dreamlike quality to the film, as if Balaban watched a few David Lynch films and said, “I can do that.” Some of the film evokes Lynch’s Blue Velvet with the shine of Americana covering up a dark and seedy underbelly, and that’s where the film’s strength is.

But sadly, Parents just doesn’t work because it can’t figure out what kind of movie it wants to be, and this struggle with identity caused confusion for this audience member. At first, I thought it would be satire, but it’s not that. It’s not really a horror movie either, and I can’t in good conscience call it a comedy, because it just isn’t funny. Without the horror and without the comedy, the satire has nothing to feed off, and it ends up starving the film of any real entertainment.

Ugh, I really wanted to like Parents. The concept and logline are both fitting, it has a strong poster presence and it starts out relatively strong, but it becomes apparent all too quickly that this is movie simply does not work. The script isn’t very strong (rough draft, anyone?) and it doesn’t have a unified vision. Those two failures stop the movie dead in its tracks, and it never recovers.

2/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

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