(On Cable TV, April 2017) If anyone ever wonders what Martin Scorsese’s version of a comedy would look like, remind them of After Hours’ existence. It starts on a note familiar to countless teenage sex romp, as a young man heads to a strange woman’s apartment in hope of, well, you know. But the odds are against our hero as he loses his money, meets increasingly hostile people, suffers the worst luck imaginable and seemingly can’t manage to get himself out of trouble. It may be a comedy, but it’s shot like a horror thriller and written even more darkly. There are a number of deaths in the film, to the point where it’s the kind of film where you can comment “the murder was funnier than the suicide” and not feel like a complete psychopath. After Hours is a very strange film, compelling on the sole basis of seeing how bad things will get for the protagonist, yet repellent in content and unsatisfying in its abrupt conclusion. (To be clear: the last shot of the conclusion is just about perfect, but what leads to it seems arbitrary and far too quickly resolved to feel right.) Griffin Dunne is oddly sympathetic as the justifiably paranoid protagonist; meanwhile, Linda Fiorentino shows up in an early role as a kinky artist, Teri Garr is amusing as a vengeful waitress and Roseanna Arquette as a young woman with an entire newsstand of issues. (New York City also plays itself in its most alarming state, as a dark labyrinth in which everyone is out to get you.) If After Hours is Martin Scorsese goofing off, they maybe we should be thankful that he hasn’t made more pure comedies … or that his far funnier films usually belong to other genres.
(On Cable TV, October 2012) As Mr. Mom nearly celebrates its thirtieth anniversary, it’s best to consider it as a film of its time, when it was easier to get laughs from the inversion of stereotypical gender roles. A father staying home to take care of the kids while his wife works a professional job? Hi-la-rious, with a large helping of male anxiety as side-dish. Social conventions have evolved a bit since then, thankfully, but that doesn’t mean the film hasn’t aged well. Sure, many of the pop-culture gags (or musical cues) are now nigh-incomprehensible to younger audiences, the pacing feels slow at times but John Hugues’ script exists in a nice reality worth visiting. Compared to more recent parenthood comedies, Mr. Mom doesn’t indulge in grossness or offensiveness: it’s pleasant enough, and has enough material for stars Michael Keaton and Teri Garr to shine through. There are a smattering of clever lines (“220, 221 –whatever it takes”) and a few good moments: The comedy hits its stride mid-way through as Keaton’s character reaches an accommodation with his parenthood duties, first badly and then more maturely. The soap-opera-inspired sequence is hilarious, even though it’s a bit of a departure from the tone of the rest of the film. While the film’s predictability and gentleness may not amount to nothing more than an entertaining time-waster, Mr. Mom still works at what it tries to do, and offers a window back to early-eighties attitudes.