- Movie Rating -

Parents (1989)

| January 27, 1989

I think I know the general purpose of the horror comedy Parents but I am not sure I get the point.  Bob Balaban, directing his first feature, apparently wants to rip the lid off the luster of “The Fabulous Fifties” by illustrating the sinister machinations that lie just under the surface.  The problem is that as a horror movie I was only disgusted and as a comedy I wasn’t laughing.

The movie stars Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt as Nick and Lily Laemmle, an otherwise pleasant couple who live in a suburb rife with all the 50s décor: the Frank Lloyd Wright furniture, the bridge table, the pastel colors etc.  But there’s something off-center about this couple.  They seem to be hiding something and whatever their hiding is seen through the eyes of their son Michael, a wide-eyed kid played with conviction by Bryan Madorsky.

Nothing is subtle in this household.  Dad is hostel toward the kid and Mom is always dodging direct and very pertinent questions that come from her son.  For example, what is the origin of those big, juicy cuts of prime meat that occupy the dinner table?  The fact that Dad works in a lab surrounded by cadavers may provide a clue.

Bryan himself is a real study.  He’s a dark little bugger who draws disturbing pictures and speaks as if he’s just off the immediate family line from The Addams Family.  He’s always observing his parents from around the corner and wondering what they’re up to.  When he finally builds up the nerve to ask questions, his dad grows sinister and shuts down the argument.  Such darkness invokes nightmares of blood welling up from the mattress or dripping out of the household refrigerator.

There is all the makings of an effective horror comedy here, but I never figured out what Balaban wanted this movie to be about.  It’s really just a series of weird characters in their weird household with Dad’s weird and stomach-turning manner of putting food on the table.  The movie looks right, it feels right, is sounds right, but there’s a center missing.  What is the movie really about?  What does Balaban think about the 1950s?  Or these characters?  Or their sinister world?  This is just simply a weird movie and that’s about it.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1989) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy, Horror