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  Parents I'll Take The Salad, Thanks
Year: 1989
Director: Bob Balaban
Stars: Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt, Sandy Dennis, Brian Madorsky, London Juno, Kathryn Grody, Deborah Rush, Graham Jarvis, Helen Carscallen, Warren Van Evera, Wayne Robson, Uriel Byfield, Mariah Balaban, Larry Palef
Genre: Horror, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: Young Michael (Brian Madorsky) has recently moved with his parents to this suburban home where they hope to settle down as his father Nick Laemle (Randy Quaid) has a job at the local chemical research plant in town, with mother Lily (Mary Beth Hurt) enjoying life as a homemaker. But all is not right behind this picture postcard existence: for one thing, Michael suffers terrible nightmares almost every night, and for another he's a problem when he refuses to eat what his mother places in front of him for every dinner. What could possibly be better for you than red meat?

Well, that depends on where the red meat came from, and Michael has his suspicions but cannot prove anything, which encapsulated the film's regard for the nuclear family of the fifties, and the kind of values the eighties were harking back to. At least some in the nineteen-eighties, as there were those who did not swallow the whole line about family values being what nations were built upon, and Parents was one of those movies which in blackly comedic form pulled back the curtains to reveal a bone deep cyncism about the whole thing, which was indicative of its era and looked forward to the mistrust which proliferated in its future.

What could be more wholesome than an Eisenhower family unit sitting down for a robust meal? But director Bob Balaban, here spreading his wings into features after a successful career as an actor, took Christopher Hawthorne's script and introduced the needling ambiguity of doubt into the scenario. This being a horror movie, perhaps how it wound up was not so surprising, but it was to the movie's credit that even when they stood up and stated what we suspected throughout the story it never felt like a letdown even as it introduced eighties slasher conventions into the squeaky clean fifties, mainly because it would likely convince you that decade wasn't half as unblemished as the powers that be would have you believe.

All Michael wants to know is what the leftovers he is served each mealtime were before they were leftovers, and in a move that makes the insightful metaphor crystal clear he doesn't get a straight answer. Is this the reason he suffers those bad dreams, or do the bad dreams cause the unease when he's awake? That Madorsky, who never made another film, speaks in the same mumbling monotone throughout and never changes his expression should have made for a terrible performance, yet his particular numb quality does the off kilter atmosphere tremendous favours, especially when set against the verging on parody suburban perfection of his screen parents, performances superbly pitched between cutesy, glacial and sinister - Hurt in particular is a marvel here.

Michael got up for a glass of water one night and caught his parents cavorting on the living room floor, but did he see them in a sexual position or did something horrific occur? The sight plays on his mind throughout, and scatty social worker Sandy Dennis is appointed to coax him through the possible maladjustment he's going through, but it was a mark of the shifting reality of the film that we're not entirely on her side, mainly because we're inclined to accept the boy's word that there is something not right at all about his home life. His best friend Sheila (London Juno) is as spaced out as he is, but the spectre of abuse is hovering over Michael whereas she is simply eccentric, not that his parents would be doing anything out of place in a horror movie in feeding him the wrong kind of food. Not the sort of movie to watch if you're having second thoughts about your carnivorous diet, with its exquisite David Lynch-esque stylisation (and Angelo Badalamenti on scoring duties), Parents was a satirical, terrifically acted gem of revulsion both corporeal and political.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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