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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Kicking & Screaming and Monster-in-Law (review)

Parental Avoidance Suggested

Just when you think the genre of the humiliation comedy can’t reach any new depths of repugnance and depravity, along comes Will Ferrell (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Starsky & Hutch), the doofus king of self-debasement in the name of entertainment, to prove you wrong. It’s not enough that his suburban dad/reluctant soccer coach is the object of much personal degradation — from ritual emasculation, as the driver of a wimpy hybrid car, by a woman in a Hummer, to constant physical and psychological abuse at the hands of his own aggressively unfit father (Robert Duvall: Secondhand Lions, Open Range) — but here he’s dishing it out to kids, too, picking on the tykes on his losingest pee-wee team because they’re all a bit too much like the awkward boy he once was himself and has never really grown beyond.
Yes, ineffectual loser manchild Ferrell is up to his usual schtick here, and no “joke” is too inevitable or obvious. Okay, you can put in a room: 1) a an enormous tank with Dad’s prize killer fish, 2) a dart board, and 3) clumsy oaf Ferrell. But why not at least pretend, for just a microsecond or two, that something other than this is going to happen: clumsy oaf Ferrell (3) will throw dart (2) directly at the enormous fish tank (1), hence destroying it and earning his millionth wrath-of-Dad point. Isn’t surprise supposed to be an element of humor? Or is simple ritual mortification that only point of these movies anymore?

And even if that is the case, is it really necessary to make children the butt of cruel jokes? Look, Ferrell is, allegedly, an adult. If he wants to play a character who, at 40 or whatever age he’s supposed to be, is still subject to regular physical thrashings by his father, fine — he’s the one who has to live with himself. But leave the kids out of it. It’s not like this is, say, Meatballs or The Bad News Bears or one of those other classic flicks that this abysmal movie will someday be lumped in with — the kids here do not have their own integrity as characters or any kind of personal wherewithal within the frame of the story to weather such abuse. They are nothing but little punching bags… and worse, when the tone of the movie shifts, as the tone of this brand of crap invariably does, from cartoonish absurdity to sledgehammer sentimentality, we’re suddenly supposed to “feel” for the little guys when we’d presumably been meant to feel nothing previously, unless we were all just supposed to be heartless unsympathetic bastards all along.

Oh, I know: We’re not supposed to take any of it seriously, of course — it’s “just a movie.” But Kicking & Screaming apes, in its own bizarrely unaware metacontextual way, the drama of the Little League sidelines it thinks it’s sending up. From the brutally unpleasant way that supposed grownups use children as pawns in battles with other adults to the foolishness of divorcing kids’ self-esteem from any sense of achievement or effort on their part, the movie skirts dangerously close to nodding with approval upon the toxic environment today’s kids are coping with. Poor little buggers.

Mother focker
Monster-in-Law is pretty much the same movie as Kicking & Screaming, except the absence of actual children in the movie makes it harder to justify all the juvenile bad behavior on the part of the characters. But other than that: supposed grownups with no backbone are unable to assert themselves against horrific parental types, until the stress of unexpressed, ineffectual rage finally manifests itself in punching, slapping, and other conduct for which a kid would be given a timeout or — from the more old-fashioned parent — a swat on the behind. Instead, it’s multimillion-dollar paychecks all around.

How anyone can pretend that either of these movies is intended to be viewed and actually enjoyed by people older than five is a great mystery to me.

Fifteen years absent from the big screen, and this is what Jane Fonda comes back to? Catfights with J. Lo? Over her son, that guy from Alias? Frankly, these awful, spineless people all deserve one another — they can all live together like the Three Stooges, and Wanda Sykes can step in and say “Oh, shit!” every once in a while as the “voice of reason.” But wait — what’s this? Everyone gets all lovey-dovey and cozy in the end? Are we supposed to care now?

Kicking & Screaming
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers
rated PG for thematic elements, language and some crude humor
official site | IMDB

Monster-in-Law
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers
rated PG-13 for sex references and language
official site | IMDB



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