Jun 7, 2008

On DVD: Mama's Boy

When Warner Home Video's new DVD for Mama's Boy found its way into my mailbox this week, it caught me off guard. I'd just seen the trailer for it a few weeks ago on another DVD and thought, "Hey, I'll check that out." But it said Coming This November. "Oh, they're advertising a bit early. I guess I'll have to wait." Little did I know they meant last November, and that short of New Zealand, Turkey, and Romania, this film hadn't seen a theater screen. Not a good sign.

But when my wife and I sat down to watch Mama's Boy we found it very surprising. It wasn't a bad film at all. In fact, it was kind of cute. But it was immediately and abundantly clear exactly why this movie had been scrapped. It isn't a movie for most mainstream audiences. While Mama's Boy is a mainstream-style comedy that possesses a dry wit, it's popuated with unlikable characters. It's not that you hate them, but you don't ever like them. And that is a very bad thing for a mainstream comedy.

Jon Heder plays the titular mama's boy, eccentric Jeffrey Mannus, a 29-year-old wanna-be astronomer who responded to the death of his father at a young age by becoming inseparable from his mother Jan, played by Diane Keaton. But after mom hooks up with a new beau, Mert Rosenbloom (Jeff Daniels), Jeffrey reacts to the news poorly.

What follows is the typical out-of-control-spiral-into-the-darkside snipefest between Heder and Daniels -- a setup reminiscent of the classic Rushmore. Trouble is, Jeffrey's a jerk. A big, giant chucklehead. There are words for guys like this, but my editor prefers that I not use them. Seriously, imagine Jason Schwartzman from Rushmore, only even more pompous, arrogant, and without the real intelligence to back it up. Oh, I know this guy -- I've met many like him -- and Jeffrey is a great caricature of the type. But the movie barely manages to dangle the thinnest carrot of likability as a means to keep you watching.

And really, that's what prevents this from being a film for everyone. Because Jeffrey isn't the only barely likable character. The entire cast skirts the shores of dweebsville. Daniels plays one of those cheesy motivational speakers who spits out fortune-cookie answers that sound like they were read out of a Hallmark card. Keaton's Jan is spineless and plays into her demanding, loser son's every whim.

Anna Faris's Nora, the film's love interest, is a weak joke/commentary on the alterna-be culture. She's a singer writing an album about the evils of consumerism and corporations, while she's drinking coffee at Starbucks. Get it? Sigh. Fortunately, if you could capture sunlight in a jar and then coalesce it into a solid state, it would form Anna Faris. And they let Faris be Faris.

If there's one thing to be said about Mama's Boy, it's that the cast does an incredible job of overcoming their pathetic characters and making you feel for and kind of like them -- or at least you'll get where they're coming from.

As a comedy, the over-the-top, mainstream jokes tend to fall flat. But if you're paying attention to the wry, off-the-cuff remarks thrown out there by Faris, Daniels, Sarah Chalke, and an underused Eli Wallach, there's enough real humor that also serves as part of that keeping-you-endeared-to-them thing.

All in all, Mama's Boy is worth a watch as an interesting experiment in the type of character study you see more often in indie fare.

DVD extras are simply a routine commentary track by director Tim Hamilton and a collection of deleted scenes. Not a one of those deleted scenes is worth seeing, and together they make you believe that an editor or producer stepped in to save the film from itself through cutting, but the director insisted that they get placed on the disc.

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