Retro review–John Hughes’ Mr. Mom, a Michael Keaton comedy classic

Michael Keaton in Mr Mom

Classic comedy from the 1980s includes some of the most re-watchable films.  There are the perennial favorites from the creative talents of the original Saturday Night Live cast, like Caddyshack, The Blues Brothes, Stripes, and Ghostbusters.  Many of the best were written by John Hughes, with National Lampoon’s Vacation, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Planes, Trains & Automobiles among them.  But while these movies can be found all the time on cable, one of Hughes’ best comedy classics inexplicably rarely surfaces.  That film is Mr. Mom, the movie that solidified Michael Keaton as not only a comedic actor audiences loved, but a leading man who could hold his own as top name on the marquee.  The physical comedy Keaton uses in his latest film Birdman has its roots in Keaton’s performance as Mr. Mom’s put-upon co-worker, husband and dad.  In fact early on Keaton recognized his own talent at physical comedy, taking the stage surname Keaton because of Buster Keaton’s similar talents.

Keaton plays Jack Butler, recently laid-off from his Detroit auto plant job.  When he can’t find work, wife Caroline, played by Teri Garr, decides to dust off her marketing degree and take a job working for Ron Richardson, played by Martin Mull.  Jack is laid off with co-workers including one played by Christopher Lloyd, and his boss is played by Jeffrey Tambor.  Ann Jillian plays a single neighbor out to land the homebound Jack, and Carolyn Seymour, who will be familiar to Star Trek fans for her humorous guest appearances, is one of the people who works for Ron (and despises Caroline).  Until this year you could have said each of these actors was at the top of their game in Mr. Mom, although the newfound accolades for both Keaton and Tambor seem to qualify that assertion.

Garr Mull and Keaton in Mr Mom

If you saw Mr. Mom in theaters upon its release in 1983, you may be surprised when re-watching the film 30 years later how many lines you remember.  It’s not quotable to the extent of Caddyshack, but you may find you can quote lines along with the film.  Pop culture references to contemporary movies were a signature of Hughes long before Joss Whedon would perfect them in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Mr. Mom becomes an acting playground for Keaton.  He portrays a well-meaning father to three kids played by better than average child actors (including the now pervasive character actor, Fred Koehler) even when he screws up.  He’s jealous of his wife (he has to bet her he’ll get a job first and loses) and of her boss (she IS Teri Garr, after all, the ideal film wife/girlfriend of the day in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Young Frankenstein, and Oh, God!).  He gets to hang out having fun with the “other wives” in the neighborhood playing cards for coupons and finds himself stuck at a male strip club.  He has failures (as dropping off his kids at school: “You’re doing it wrong”) and triumphs (cleaning himself up after becoming a Young and the Restless junkie).  Keaton gets to show up Martin Mull with a tough guy outfit and chain saw, throw a track race to let Mull win, wrestle washing machines and a vacuum named Jaws, all while staying loyal to his wife, even when he (wrongly) thinks she is cheating on him.

Mr Mom work picnic

Most importantly, Mr. Mom is a comedy that has that one trait many comedies today lack:  it actually is funny.  Comedy is a subjective thing, but the situational comedy, Hughes’s endearing characters, and memorable performances by Keaton, Garr, Mull, Lloyd, Jillian, and Tambor result in entertainment your whole family will enjoy.  Like the Schooner tuna brand Caroline is trying to advertise in the movie, Mr. Mom has heart.

Check out Mr. Mom on streaming services including On Demand as well as Netflix, and it’s available on DVD (but not yet on Blu-ray!) at here.

C.J. Bunce




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