by Brendan Wahl
Jon Heder as…Jeffrey Mannus
Diane Keaton as…Jan Mannus
Jeff Daniels as…Mert Rosenbloom
Anna Faris as…Nora Flannigan
Is this a trend now? After watching “Away We Go” last night and quite enjoying it, I flipped the channel to IFC today and caught a little independant dramedy starring Jon Heder called “Mama’s Boy.” While I’ve enjoyed Heder’s comedic performances in films like Napoleon Dynamite, Blades of Glory, and School for Scoundrels I thought it would be interesting to check out what he could do with this type of role geared more towards drama.
The plot is, much like “Away We Go”, a very simple one. 29-year old aspiring astronomer Jeffrey Mannus (Heder) still lives at home with his mother Jan (Keaton) despite having a job at a book store and not really ever being apart from his mother. When she begins to date a self-help guru named Mert (Jeff Daniels), the neurotic and repressed Jeffrey immediately rejects the notion and attempts to rid the house of the home-wrecker Mert so that he may continue on with his cushy life-situation.
Unfortunately, unlike many independant films, the characters are the weakest part of the movie. Jeffrey, for one, is one of the most unlikeable “heros” I have ever bared witness to in a motion picture. He is neurotic, yet something of a hypocrite and an insecure, pessimistic, narcissistic plebian. He is so god damn unlikeable that in a scene where he finally engages in a physical fight with Mert (Daniels), I just wanted him to shoot Jeffrey in the chest and the credits to start rolling. I can blame Heder for his lack of emotion that he put into the character, but the writing is mostly to blame for not giving him a single redeeming quality. I’ve seen good films where none of the characters are truly likeable, but in this type of movie it’s not acceptable. Jeffrey needs to be at least slightly appealing and we need to understand his plight, but we only think of him as a pathetic man-child who looks down on everyone around him.
Now that thee main character is out of the way, we have the supporters. Diane Keaton is not given much to do as Jeffrey’s mother as she coasts through several different emotions that don’t really make sense in the context of the film. Keaton tries but can’t really bring her character to life. Anna Faris is another one that tries hard, but succeeds slightly more than Keaton. Faris plays an aspiring songstress and potential love interest for Jeffrey (because we “reeeeeally” want to see him happy….sigh) but her attraction to him is very hard to believe as it would be unimaginable for anyone to even remotely like him.
Jeff Daniels comes out of the film looking the best as a self-help guru there to woo Jan (Keaton) and woo her into an eventual engagement. Daniels’ character on paper could appear to be a vindictive person hell-bent on tearing Jan away from her son, but he is a much better actor than that. Indeed, he injects a healthy dose of charisma and humanity into the character and makes him into the character in the film that most closely resembles a real human being.
Aside from the acting, the directing is admittedly not so terrible. Relative unknown Tim Hamilton does alright with the sequencing of the film, but his skill with actors is not as accomplished. Admittedly, that has a lot more to do with the writing, but the directing is really there to hone their craft as accurately as possible and it feels like that was never really accomplished with the film.
Any highlights? Well, Faris’ character has a few moments such as the lyrics to some of her anti-corporate songs that seethe with such hatred and loathing that it impedes another portion of the film. If she is so anti-establishment, how is she so attracted to the law-abiding, clean-cut Hader? Other highlights include Daniels’ attempts to bond with Jeffrey, but really the good parts of this movie are very few and far between.
Cute ending aside, I would say this film is barely worth peepin’. Maybe if one is really bored on a lazy afternoon or something. On a real quick side note though, if you DO watch the film, Eli Wallach’s character’s attitude towards Jeffrey throughout the film can basically be said to represent the viewer’s feelings towards him through much of the film.