Back in 1989, Bob Balaban, an actor beloved of many STARBURST readers thanks to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Altered States, plus several Wes Anderson films, directed this odd scary comedy. It garnered mediocre reviews and pretty much died at the box office, but has since gained a bit of a cult following. Now on Blu-ray, should Parents be welcomed back to the family bosom or sent off to an old folks home?
In a sentence nobody ever thought they would write, Parents is a bit like what would have happened if David Lynch had made a film with Pee Wee Herman. If that sounds tantalisingly wonderful, don’t get too excited as the brilliance of neither of these people actually ends up in this strange hybrid of 1950s American kitsch and paranoid horror.
Moving to a new suburban town in 1954, little Michael just doesn’t fit in. A child with a constant look of dread, thanks in no small part to some unpleasant nightmares, he eyes his perfect parents with suspicion and soon gets sent to his new school’s social worker after drawing a disturbing family portrait. Are the wild thoughts that his meat-obsessed parents might be cannibals all in his head, or is there actually something evil going on in that perfect American family household?
Parents is a beautiful looking film. The gorgeous production design (there’s plenty of it covered in the abundant extras) gives the film a 1950s catalogue sheen, with costumes, wallpaper, cars and homes all looking incredible. As the “are they or aren’t they?” parents, Mary Beth Hurt (sweet interview of recollections of making the film in the extras) and a youthful Randy Quaid are fantastic, playing it just straight enough but with the right amount of off-kilter menace to keep us guessing. The wonderful Sandy Dennis shines in her every scene as the batty social worker, and child actor Bryan Madorsky is perfect as the little boy lost who is terrified of almost everything.
However, Parents is neither frightening nor particularly funny. Inspired by the likes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the central idea of alienation may be ever present but Balaban doesn’t get the tone quite right with direction that’s fine scene to scene but cumulatively doesn’t generate the necessary thrills to make Parents one to rush out and adopt.
The best of the extras sees Balaban and producer Bonnie Palef chatting over the film. Some lovely anecdotes and friendly banter make it worth the listen.
Special Features: Audio Commentary with Director Bob Balaban and Producer Bonnie Palef, Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview with Composer Jonathan Elias, Leftovers To Be with Screenwriter Christopher Hawthorne, Mother's Day with Actress Mary Beth Hurt, Inside Out: An interview with Director of Photography Robin Vidgeon, Vintage Tastes with Decorative Consultant Yolanda Cuomo, Theatrical trailer, Radio Spots, Still Gallery
PARENTS / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: BOB BALABAN / SCREENPLAY: CHRISTOPHER HAWTHORNE / STARRING: RANDY QUAID, MARY BETH HURT, SANDY DENNIS / RELEASE DATE: 25TH FEBRUARY