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PARENTS (1989)

"We’ve been having leftovers since we came here. I just want to know what they were before they were leftovers."

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Director: Bob Balaban

Starring: Bryan Madorsky, Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt, Sandy Dennis, Kathryn Grody, Graham Jarvis, Juno Mills-Cockell

Screenplay: Christopher Hawthorne

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Synopsis: In 1950s America, the Laemle family move into their new home. Father Nick (Randy Quaid) works for the Toxico company, developing defoliants. Mother Lily (Mary Beth Hurt) is a perfect housewife, who spends her time cooking for her family. Their son, Michael (Bryan Madorsky), is a silent, lonely, unhappy boy who suffers nightmares in which he drowns in blood and his parents commit unspeakable acts. He begins to worry that his dreams are not just dreams. He refuses to eat the meals his mother prepares for him. At school, the children in Michael’s class are asked to draw a picture of their family. Michael’s drawing brings him to the attention of the school psychologist, Millie (Sandy Dennis), who is intrigued and worried by him. Michael sneaks into his father's place of work, and learns more than he ever wanted to know. Millie goes to Michael's house to see his patents. It turns out to be a fatal mistake....

Comments: Vegetarians of the world, stand up and cheer! Here's a movie just for you. Never has meat or meat consumption looked so repulsive. Actor-turned-director Bob Balaban’s debut film is a memorable little nightmare about the horrors that lurk in suburbia.  

  For its first two-thirds, Parents is a marvellous depiction of the terrors of childhood, captured by a writer and a director who both seem to remember how confusing and frightening being a child can be. The story is told through the eyes of young Michael Laemle, who is played by Bryan Madorsky, a skinny kid with a head too big for his body and eyes too big for his face. It is from Michael’s perspective that we see his parents, who on the surface would seem to be a perfect fifties couple: he works, she cooks; he practises golf, she dances; they have bridge parties, and occasionally drink too much.

The one fly in their ointment is Michael himself, who is a picky eater, a bad sleeper, and constantly depressed and silent. Everything worries Michael, but most of all his parents. What exactly is in the food his mother prepares so obsessively? What does his father do during the day? What are his parents really doing after he goes to bed? All of these things, normal childhood anxieties, are turned into paranoiac nightmares by clever camera work and some wonderfully nasty dream sequences. The film’s ambiguities work best in the sequence where Michael gets out of bed in the middle of the night and catches his parents together. Is it a sexual act he is witnessing, or is it something monstrous? Michael is never quite sure what he is seeing, or what is real. Consequently, neither are we.

  It is a pity that the film finally tips its hand and chooses to answer the questions it has been raising. In doing so, it sacrifices its psychological terrors for more mundane ones, and loses most of the edge that makes the early sequences so memorable. Still, the final section of the film does have horrors of its own. Its closing scene is neat if a little predictable, and serves as a reminder that the so-called perfect nuclear family is just as capable of perpetuating bad habits as good ones - though apparently it helps to have the right kind of child. "We’ll have another one, Lily," Nick comforts his wife as he carries Michael off, "we’ll bring him up right."

Randy Quaid is quite terrifying as Nick Laemle, with a threat in every smile and gesture and aphorism. In fact, his performance gives a whole new meaning to the expression, "Wait till your father gets home." Though his behaviour at home consists of murder and cannibalism, it is his socially acceptable behaviour at work that is most likely to appal audiences. In one horrific scene, we are shown what is clearly the model of a jungle village in South-East Asia, while Nick boasts of the effectiveness of his water-activated defoliant: "Drop the pellets a week before monsoon, and presto!"

  Quaid is ably supported by Mary Beth Hurt as Lily Laemle, housewife extraordinaire, whose perpetual beaming smile seems to mask any number of mental disturbances. There’s also an oddly sad performance by Sandy Dennis as Millie Dew, who in a few nicely judged gestures and mannerisms conveys that we are in the presence of a totally ineffectual human being. The film’s production design is first-class, thumbing its nose at all those nostalgic views of the fifties by filling the Laemles’ house with exquisitely awful furniture. The soundtrack is a mixture of fifties standards, thankfully not overused, and a clever faux-big band score (including a memorable piece called the "Meatloaf Mambo") composed by Angelo Badalamenti.

Check out all the details of this movie on the IMDB