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Spanking the Monkey

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Spanking the Monkey

Starring: Jeremy Davies, Alberta Watson
Director: David O. Russell
Rated: NR
RunTime: 98 Minutes
Release Date: August 1995
Genres: Comedy, Cult, Drama

*Also starring: Benjamin Hendrickson, Carla Gallo, Matthew Puckett, Judette Jones

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

SPANKING THE MONKEY is a tragedy about a frighteningly dysfunctional family. It is not an exploitive movie, but it does manage to work in just about every taboo or controversial subject you can think of from incest to drugs to physical self-love. Why in the world would I give this movie a good rating? Have I lost my mind? Well, I rated it such because it is an excellent study of the evils of what horrifically awful parents can do to a child.

In the movie the 21-year-old boy (Jeremy Davies) is repressed, angry, and withdrawn. He is a brilliant scholar - valedictorian of his high school class and MIT premed student. He is just about to go to Washington for a prestigious internship for the summer when he gets roped by his father (Benjamin Hendrickson) into caring for his mother (Alberta Watson) who has broken her ankle, is in a cast, and has to stay in bed. His father on the other hand, is too busy as a traveling salesman to do anything other than bark obtuse and impossible to follow orders to his son. The father has a girlfriend on the side and could care less about his family. He views them mainly as getting in the way of him having a good time.

For purely marketing reasons I suppose, this movie is being billed as a biting comedy. As directed by David O. Russell, it is absolutely no such thing. It is a depressing tragedy from the start. It starts on a low note and rapidly descends into the hell of a family gone tragically wrong. The way the father treats the son is pathetic yet realistic. You can feel the pain of the boy. Davies's acting is excellent. YOU get depressed because he is so depressed.

The parental blame for what they have done to their son is shared by the mother. Although she treats her son differently from the way the father does, she is very manipulative as well.

The son tries to have a normal life. The only almost sweet part of the show is his attempt at a romance with a local girl. Here too, the horrors of his family intrude. He has no role model for a normal relationship so his attempt at one with his putative girlfriend ends in an abysmal failure. The movie certainly lets you know that good grades are not enough and success can not be measured strictly by the college your child can get in.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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