blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Mr. Mom (1983, Stan Dragoti)

Approximately three-quarters of the way through Mr. Mom (approximately because the movie is a series of sitcom set pieces, not necessarily in sound narrative order), I realized it wasn’t just about sitcom set pieces; the whole thing is a situation comedy. With very low stakes. When the third act has to gin up the big drama, each resolution is a little more pat than the last, with Mom putting the whole weight on Teri Garr.

Sort of sums up the entire picture.

Mr. Mom opens with its pilot episode—Detroit auto engineer Michael Keaton gets laid off, even though his boss and carpool driver Jeffrey Tambor said it wasn’t happening. Keaton also works with Christopher Lloyd and Tom Leopold; Lloyd must’ve been doing someone a favor. Mom plays like a prestige sitcom in an era where the concept was before its time… except the script’s bad and the direction’s terrible.


Keaton’s laid off, so both he and Garr are going to look for work. They bet on it. After a commercial break, Garr’s got a job, and Keaton doesn’t. We get a little of their characters’ backstories throughout, without any actual insight, obviously. Garr went to college for something advertising-like and worked for two years before leaving to homemake for Keaton. Keaton was in the Army, then went to college, then got a job in Detroit designing cars. They can’t afford actual cars, just filming at the plant, so it’s not like there’s a failed supercar subplot. “Tonight on NBC Mr. Mom” doesn’t have supercar money.

Garr goes to work for Martin Mull, Keaton starts hanging out with her housewife friends. Mull’s a sleaze, but Garr doesn’t acknowledge it because it’s the eighties and it’s messed up. Garr’s Mom’s secret weapon. Like, it’s Keaton’s test run for sure—is Michael Keaton ready for his own “The Michael Keaton Show”? Most of his scenes are like he’s doing stand-up, presumably because director Dragoti hasn’t given him any other instruction or input. Mr. Mom has a lot of pitfalls—spoiler, the screenplay (credited to John Hughes) was worked on by a room of Aaron Spelling TV writers. And Hughes’s screenplay was only ever intended for television anyway, in that weird era of TVM comedies.

So Mom’s got a lot riding against it.

But nothing compares to Dragoti’s abjectly bad direction.

Obviously, some of the fault lies with Victor J. Kemper’s photography. Kemper’s not incompetent, just generic. But there’s better generic than what Kemper shoots for Dragoti. And Patrick Kennedy doesn’t know what he’s doing with his cutting, either. The technicals on the movie, outside Garr’s work outfits (they get the only costuming credit), are rough. I forgot about the hair and makeup on the housewives.

So why isn’t Mr. Mom the worst, then? Keaton and Garr are likable. Keaton never has to be particularly cute with the kids—any parenting mishap scenes are short, and the biggest plot arc for any of the kids is middle child Taliesin Jaffe having to give up his blankie. Though even it’s an incomplete plot arc, with Mom skipping the middle section. The movie does multiple montage sequences to cover the lack of story, including one involving Keaton growing a beard and being a layabout. The problem is the anti-beard coding doesn’t age well. Luckily he’s slobbing out in other ways… at least until Garr tells him a homemaker has to take pride in the home.

Plus divorced housewife Ann Jillian is hot to trot and after Keaton for absolutely no reason other than there aren’t any other men in the movie.

Garr’s coworkers don’t even get names.

And, of course, despite having such a limited cast of fellas… Mr. Mom doesn’t pass Bechdel. It fails proudly.

Do Keaton and Garr save it? No. But there aren’t any casualties among the cast—even with lousy sitcom bits and Dragoti’s bad direction, everyone makes it through. Eldest son Frederick Koehler gets less than Jaffe but is perfectly solid. Koehler and Jaffe are professional kid actors. They can do this job. Mull’s fine. It’s not a standout performance, but it’s not bad. Jillian’s fine. Not sure about that hair. After them, everyone else is basically just a guest star.

Nice cameo from Edie McClurg. Miriam Flynn’s good for barely having a name (it’s also unclear how well Garr knows the other housewives or if Keaton joined someone else’s gang).

I wish it were better. And not just because it’s somehow a long ninety-one minutes—you’re being forced to marathon a sitcom you didn’t agree to marathon. But there are some really obvious misses—Keaton and Garr never get to be together, which I know is a feature, not a bug, but it’d have been nice to see how they worked together. Especially since they’re then left running their own shows without reward.

Also… the final joke is dreadfully unfunny. There’s a good reason Aaron Spelling didn’t make sitcoms.

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