Not the Teen Sex Comedy of the Week: Spanking the Monkey
February 28, 2007
I’ve been a fan of David O. Russell for some time now. Back in the day, my dad and I went to see Flirting with Disaster in the theater, which proved quite embarrassing for him after we ran into some family friends scandalized by the fact that my dad had taken me to see such a risque film. I emerged unscathed, which, now that I think about it, is remarkable considering how embarrassing it was to see The 40 Year Old Virgin with my mother. I loved Three Kings which is easily one of the best war movies ever made, even if the end seems a trifle out of place, and I enjoyed what he tried to do in I Heart Huckabees. Earlier this month the New York Times printed an article about the lack of films made by the “hot” directors of the 90’s, and Mr. Russell featured prominently in that article. Fresh from the Times approved knowledge that there was no new Russell movie in sight, I decided to go and watch his first movie, Spanking the Monkey, probably the greatest modern incest dramedy.
[btw, I couldn’t resist the urge to see if our title had somehow made it into the OED. Alas, the closest search term is “spankled,” a rare variant form of “spangled,” a ppl. adj meaning speckled.]
The movie’s basic plot is this: our young protagonist is forced by his almost unbelievably evil travelling-salesman/philandering father to care for his broken-legged mother instead of working at the Surgeon General’s office for the summer. As the mother and son bond, each develop incestuous feelings for the other, eventually succumbing. Though it was his first feature, Russell had the skill to change the movie’s tone post-coitus: before the movie was light comedy, while afterwards the movie veers to the dramatic with comedic elements thrown in, often in ways that belie the seriousness of the moment. The plot changes from the Taboo-esque porn archetype of an incestuous relationship to a real exploration of the characters’ psyches. The fact that the movie stays a unified whole is remarkable.
Russell made the movie for under 100,000 dollars and at times it certainly feels that way. While some parts of the movie were a bit uneven, Spanking the Monkey is a very good movie. Seeing it makes the Times article all the more salient.