Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bad Parents (2012): When Bad Intentions Aren't Enough

Bad Parents (2012)
dir: Caytha Jentis

Movie pitch: Soccer Moms are currently hot in pop culture. They're the butt of every easy joke you can ever find. So, how about this: There's a mom who suddenly finds herself thrown into this milieu, and goes a little crazy over it. She wasn't crazy to begin with, but suddenly the pressure goes to the mom's head and...bam, she kills the coach. Just to make sure the irony is hit home, we put in Janeane Garofalo in as the nutty soccer mom lead, and then we fill up the rest of the cast with a bunch of comedians and comediennes who may have hit some rough patches. We'll call it Bad Parents. Sure-fire hit!

Yeah, but no. This is a movie based on a play, It's All About The Kids, by Caytha Jentis who also adapted it for screen and directed the movie and produced it. To top it off, it is supposedly semi-autobiographical, based in her "insider knowledge" of soccer mom life. Let's just say that Ms Jentis is a bit too close to the subject matter to properly do it justice.

Janeane Garofalo plays a mother who puts her daughter on a soccer team, which has been split up into A and B teams, and her daughter ends up on the A team. But, she immediately starts feeling the pressure of whether her kid is good enough to be on the A team, or whether the coach is good enough to get wins. The coach has been murdered, it's revealed in the first couple minutes, but the mystery of why is not a mystery. And, the when isn't even that surprising. In fact, the murder sets up a level of dark expectation that is never really met.

Bad Parents is supposed to be about the the mania of soccer mom life, which is portrayed by Garofalo and is picked up and echoed through the various moms on the team...but it never really gets all that manic. In fact, the closest to manic is the ever reliably unhinged Cheri Oteri, who deserves so much better material than this. There is one scene that reflects the absurdity of it all, and that stars Oteri and a walk-on by hunky husband Ben Bailey. Ben Bailey calls as a president of some prestigious soccer academy and proceeds to have soccer mom phone sex with Cheri Oteri by talking about how good her kid is while she's making dinner. Oteri is glorious in it.

The rest of the movie constantly tries to live up to the dark absurdity of it all, but constantly fails miserably, and that's in part due to Garofalo sleepwalking through the role, Christopher Titus never fully embracing the assholishness of the character, and Jentis making a movie that feels amateurish. In fact, most of the proceedings seem like Jentis is treating the subject matter with kid's gloves, never fully committing to mocking or even making judgement calls on the culture. Instead, Garofalo has to make the half-hearted comments that point out the absurdity in a series of white room folding laundry asides.

Garofalo is a major part of why this movie fails, never finding either the heart of the character nor the wit of the movie. Unfortunately, Janeane Garofalo is a one-note actress/comedienne who is still amazingly brilliant when she turns in a cold-hearted cynical exhausted character (her walk-on in Broad City being an amazing recent example), but always flounders when she steps out of her comfort zone to try to find wit in the normal-ish characters. It also doesn't help her that she's surrounded by better actresses who grasp the ridiculousness a little more, and flounder less.

Unfortunately, the movie's budget probably went to the cast and not to anything else as the movie feels like it has the budget of a $100 student film. With shoddy camera work, and a dedication to that digital camera feel, Bad Parents is never really good. It's main problem is that it feels aloof but doesn't want to. Soccer Moms are way too easy of a target, but Bad Parents never even hits that target. It's never endearing toward soccer moms nor is it mocking of them. And, thus, Bad Parents becomes a completely unwatchable mess of a terrible movie.

That being said, movie producers...you need to make Cheri Oteri a star. In both this and Southland Tales, she's shown the ability to shine in weird material, and find the funny. Please, give her better roles.

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