July 17, 2008

DVD Review: Mama's Boy

Last year I saw film that centered on fractured familial relationships. In this movie there was a widowed mother who was starved for attention, a son who was overly protective of his mother and did not want to see her end up with the wrong man, and a potential suitor who is seen as the wrong man by said son. It was a movie that lived in sitcom-land, yet it still proved to have interesting characters that actually grew and had, at the very least, an illusion of depth. It is not a film I could flat out call good, but it was better than my initially very low expectations would lead anyone to believe. Sounds a lot like I am talking about Mama's Boy, but I'm not. The movie I am talking about is Mr. Woodcock that, like Mama's Boy, has a few name stars in its cast. Why do I bring this up? It is mentioned because both films seem very similar in theme and in content, yet one takes a bow on the big screen while the other heads directly to DVD.

I have to wonder if Mr. Woodcock's lackluster $25 million take had any influence on this film skipping the domestic theater in favor of a DVD release. I mean, the film has a number of recognizable stars in the cast that a theatrical release could be marketed around. You could choose lead Jon Heder, although I believe many are growing weary of his Napoleon Dynamite schtick, or perhaps Scary Movie star Anna Faris, or you could even go to the older cast members in Diane Keaton or Jeff Daniels. The more logical assumption could be that the studio, Warner Brothers, recognized that the movie they had was not all that good and rather than go through the expense of dumping it in January, they would be better to send it directly to the DVD market and catch the spontaneous rental dollars.

Perhaps I am being a bit harsh. The movie is not terrible; it is just terribly bland. It is the sort of movie you are likely to find on Comedy Central, TNT, or FX and you find yourself drawn in and before you know it, it's two in the morning and you are struggling to finish watching the movie. Yes, it is not terrible, but it's also not terribly good.

As the film opens we meet a young Jeffrey Mannus (Jon Heder). It is his father's funeral, a sad event where he vows never to leave his mother alone. This promise leads us to the present, where he has this odd co-dependent relationship with his mother, Jan. This relationship has left Jeffrey's ability to interact with people seriously stunted. He is, essentially, the geek living at home with his mom, to put it even more accurately, he is an adult Napoleon Dynamite.

Not long into the movie, Jan is asked on a date by motivational speaker Mert Rosenbloom (Jeff Daniels). This sets off a rift between mother and son, as mother wishes to regain her life apart from her adult son and re-enter the world, while son is more than happy to continue this co-dependent relationship. Jeffrey looks upon Mert as unwanted competition, a man unworthy of his mother's affections.

At the same time he has set his sights upon Mert, he, himself, has a brush with a potential distraction. He has a chance meeting with rebellious musician (who rails against corporations in her music, yet insists on going to Starbucks for her coffee), Norah (Anna Faris). Of course, he is oblivious of the connection that sparks between them.

The further on we go, the more annoying all of the characters become and the more clear it becomes that the story was not all that well thought out. Remember when I said I might be a bit too harsh? I think I may have been wrong. While watching it, it is easy to write it off and just go with the flow, but when you stop and think about it after the fact, the afterglow quickly disappears as the reality of a poorly constructed story enters your mind. Try to piece together the logic and you are likely to get a headache.

Mama's Boy exists on a pure surface level, the logic and logistics of the character moves and motivations are of no concern. The screenplay by Hank Nelken is relentlessly quirky and fails to imbue any of its inhabitants with any sense of humanity, they exist in a world where logic does not exist.

The performances are not much better. Jon Heder is proving that his range is not much more than variations on a theme, and the gimmick is getting tired. Jeff Daniels and Diane Keaton are not much better, the former is a grating personality that would be exposed in any other film and the latter is, well, off in her own universe. The only character that I liked even a little is Anna Farris, she comes out pretty much unscathed, although I cannot quite put my finger on why.

Audio Video. The technical aspects are all right. I found no fault with the image or audio transfers, although the film is shot rather plainly with little that really jumps out,

Extras. There are a few deleted scenes, totaling just over six minutes. None of them would have added much of anything to the feature. There is also a commentary with first time director Tim Hamilton.

Bottomline. There is nothing particularly special here. It is relatively easy to watch, so long as you don't try to make sense of it. When the sheen wears off with the closing credits, you realize that everything you have seen was pointless and played out by characters that you did not like and did not really want to spend any time with. Mr. Woodcock covers similar ground better; you'd be better off renting that.

Not Recommended.


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