Spoiler Alert: Mr. Mom (1983)
The trailer for this film is much more sexist than the actual film, trust us.
If you are a Stay at Home Dad or a Work at Home Dad in the US, whether temporarily or by choice, you have probably had the label “Mr. Mom” stuck on you by someone. Sometimes it’s an affectionate jibe from your significant other, sometimes it’s the source of a hearty guffaw from the guys down at the bar. Whichever way it is intended, the barb stings enough that the National Stay at Home Dad Network made dumping the phrase one of the key goals of their 2013 advocacy work. With some success evidently as “Mister Mom” was added to Lake Superior State University’s (home of the real Lakers) annual list of “banished words” for 2014. To whit;
The 30-year anniversary of this hilarious 1983 Michael Keaton movie seems to have released some pent-up emotions. It received nearly as many nominations as “selfie” and “twerk” from coast to coast in the U.S. and Canada, mostly from men.
“It was a funny movie in its time, but the phrase should refer only to the film, not to men in the real world. It is an insult to the millions of dads who are the primary caregivers for their children. Would we tolerate calling working women Mrs. Dad?” says Pat, of Chicago, who suggests we peruse the website captaindad.org, the manly blog of stay-at-home parenting.
“I am a stay-at-home dad/parent. And if you call me ‘Mr. Mom,’ I will punch you in the throat. – Zachary, East Providence, RI.
“Society is changing and no longer is it odd for a man to take care of his children. Even the Wall Street Journal has declared, “Mr. Mom is dead” (Jan. 22, 2013). I think it is time to banish it.” – Chad, St. Peters, Mo.
The Grounded Parents do not endorse solving any problem (save perhaps zombie or ninja attacks,) with throat punching. However it is easy to understand the sentiment. We have come a long way as a society since 1983, so I decided to sit down and watch the film (which I had never seen before) to see just how far we’ve come. (“Mr. Mom” is available for free streaming to anyone with an Amazon Prime account right now, in case you want to play along at home.)
“Mr. Mom” follows the adventures of Jack Butler, played by a very young Michael Keaton (It was only his second feature film, and a year before his breakout performance in Johnny Dangerously) and Caroline Butler, played by Terri Garr (one of my personal favorite actresses), as they navigate the recession of the the early 80’s. Jack, an automotive engineer at Ford, and his buddies (Larry and Stan; Christopher Lloyd and Tom Leopold respectively,) are laid off by their manager and car pooler Jinx, played sleazily well by Jeffery Tambor. Caroline immediately volunteers to return to the workforce because she evidently has a college degree she hasn’t been using for lo these last few years (the oldest kid looks to be about 8, so, lets say almost a decade.) Jack is skeptical of this prospect, to the point of wagering $100 that he will find a job before she does. He loses this bet, as we quickly cut to Caroline’s first day on the job at an ad agency.
What follows is a fairly familiar rundown of the pro’s and con’s of the stay at home Dad versus the working Mom. Jack is feckless and obtuse in tackling the household chores and caring for the children, especially the little girl Megan, still in diapers. You can see a bit of the madcap skills Keaton would later bring to Beatlejuice in these scenes. Caroline, on the other hand is immediately thrust into success at the ad agency, attracting the eye of her lascivious boss Ron Richardson, adequately hammed up by Martin Mull. As the days pass Jack descends into boredom, slovenliness and soap opera addiction, whilst Caroline rockets to the top of her firm by working late hours and seeing less and less of her family. This crisis comes to head when Jack, whilst watching tv, drifts off and dreams that his wife his wife walks in on himself and his buxom neighbor “in flagrante delicto” so to speak. This leads to a soap opera style murder scene in which Jack is forced to confront what a mess his life has become. Awakening from his daymare, Jack immediately embarks on a straight out of Rocky get your shit together montage wherein he gets his shit together. After much hilarity and a case of sexual harassment, Caroline quits her job, Jack gets his job back because Jinx has been mismanaging the division whilst Jack was away and we wrap things up with everyone back where they started. The End.
Whew… So what do we make of that? I thought the movie got off to a bit of a rocky start but found it’s stride about halfway through. The cast is stellar, so even if the script is a little cliched they pull it off with aplomb. The kids are cute as buttons. As a statement about Stay at Home Dads, “Mr. Mom” manages to be both dated and relevant. Jack’s complete incompetence at housework is so over the top as to be unbelievable. The boredom he faces has largely been alleviated by technological advancement. A SAHD is no longer relegated to 3 channels of soap opera’s on TV. And with telecommuting, at home parents of all stripes can earn a productive and satisfying living at the same time they care for home and children. It is also interesting that the Butler’s situation is involuntary, like a lot of SAHD’s today since the 2008 financial crisis, Jack would rather be working. In fact a lot of the struggle Jack goes through is coming to terms with his definition of himself without the role of “breadwinner” to fall back on.
Caroline, on the other hand, explores a world that is exciting and interesting, yet is ultimately presented as confining and dangerous by the script. She gets ahead at the ad firm, but it’s hard to separate her advancement from Martin Mull’s over the top interest in her and his eventual attempt to convince her to dump Jack and form an 80’s style power couple. Yeah… he’s scum. After quitting her job at the end of the film, Caroline insists that she is getting a better one, but that is hard to square with the fact that Jack has his old job back.
All in all I enjoyed the movie more than I thought I would going in. I suppose it was hard to separate the film from the baggage it has gathered over the years. It is a fun look back at the 80’s, there’s some good comedy as Jack integrates with the neighborhood moms, including a coupon poker game and a trip to a “gentlewoman’s club”. “Mr. Mom” has an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, which surprised me, but evidently it is considered one of the best films of the decade. Interesting note for film buffs, after the success of “Mr. Mom”, writer John Hughes was inked to a three picture deal with Universal. Those three pictures are? “Sixteen Candles”, “The Breakfast Club”, and “Weird Science”. Yes, you read that right, without the success of “Mr. Mom” we might never have had the Brat Pack.
Age Appropriateness: The MPAA gave it a PG in 1983, which seems about right. You might have to explain to younger kids some of the sexual humor, or explain what a Soap Opera is.
Bechdel Test Performance: Not even close.
Spoiler Alert Rating: 3.5 Stars. “Mr. Mom” is hardly a classic comedy, but there’s enough chuckles to get you through a rainy afternoon.
Feature Image Credit: Universal Studios