Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Helicopter Mom (2014): Overbearing Your Child

Helicopter Mom (2014)
dir: Salome Breziner

SIFF 2014 Film #21

With one film, Nia Vardalos made a name for herself, and also became a personality that nobody can stand. She is a dominating, embarrassing, loud, brassy personality who seems to actually have little knowledge that she comes off as annoying and brash. So, it is with refreshing admiration that she used her persona to maximal effect in Helicopter Mom, the new LGBTQ coming out movie by Salome Breziner.

Helicopter Mom is, ostensibly, about Lloyd (Jason Dolley), a 17-year-old senior in high school in Venice, CA. But, in actuality, much as the title intones, Helicopter Mom is actually about Lloyd's mom, Maggie (Vardalos), who has no knowledge of her son's boundaries and frequently goes to extreme lengths to try to make her son happy but ends up making his life miserable. One such example is Maggie putting a silk scarf and floppy bright orange sun hat on her son, and then pushing him onto the Venice boardwalk, right into a big bunch of bikers. At the start of the picture, Lloyd's father has been long out of the picture.

Lloyd, a slim bookish nerdy type, desires to go to NYU in order to be away from his mother. But, Maggie, being a single mother, can't afford it on her own. But, when she gets the idea that Lloyd might be gay due to nasty rumor mill PTA parents, and semi-verified by Lloyd's late sexual development (no boyfriends, no girlfriends, no sex talk, etc), she brings Lloyd's father Max (Mark Boone Junior) back into the picture, and also signs him up for an out gay scholarship.

While the plot points are totally sitcom worthy (bringing the father back into the picture, a zany gay scholarship, setting Lloyd on dates without telling him, etc), the actual movie feels fresh because Salome doesn't actually care about making Maggie being adorably zany. In the (extremely terrible) opening credits, the title is initially Hell Mom until a cartoon helicopter drops in to change the word to "Helicopter." Nia's completely abrasive and obnoxious role as an overbearing mother from hell cuts through the usual treacle to create a good mix of grating and funny.

There are some also amazing points to Helicopter Mom, some of which haven't been seen since But I'm A Cheerleader. Lloyd's debate isn't fueled by self-hatred, and is actually a genuine debate between being gay or straight or bi. The conversations Lloyd has with his father about his sexuality are scripted extremely well and actually sound like mature dissections of modern sexuality. Even though the whole plot is aimed for the Prom, the climax at the prom is more interesting than typical boy kisses object of affection.

If there is one major complaint about Helicopter Mom it would be that Lloyd gets put on the back burner for the first half of the movie. Maggie pretty much owns the first half of the movie, and it's only when Max is introduced to hold Maggie back does Lloyd (and Jason) get some valuable screen time. Part of this is also due to the script being more about Nia than Lloyd until Lloyd comes around.

Helicopter Mom feels like a modern coming out movie appropriate for 13-year-olds on up. Despite an unnecessary and cheeky diagram of penis, Helicopter Mom is appropriate for teenagers and great for saying that struggling with your sexuality is OK, a modern message. With a lack of nudity (there is a brief scene of shirtless guys playing soccer, and Venice beach shirtlessness) and lascivious lusting, Helicopter Mom keeps it all about personality and tastes and not about body parts, a commendable feat. The sitcom tonality fits in with the age appropriateness of the film, and the originality of the content makes Helicopter Mom the best teen LGBTQ film of the festival.

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