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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Mama's Boy is the kind of movie that brings out the detective in me. The comedy - which boasts an impressive cast that includes Jon Heder, Diane Keaton, Anna Faris, and Jeff Daniels - caught my attention when I heard it was going into production. Somehow, though, the movie never seemed to come out. It missed a couple release dates, including one last summer. When my review copy of the DVD arrived in the mail, I was slightly stunned to see Heder's mug staring out at me. Was the film going straight to video?

Well, not really. A quick check of some online resources, including Variety, informed me that Mama's Boy did play in Los Angeles briefly at the end of 2007. Meanwhile, the wonderful site Box Office Mojo reported that it played overseas, in New Zealand, Romania, and Turkey. All this begs the question: What the heck happened to the American release?

It's weird. Sometimes studios ship misguided movies off to DVD while allowing the genuine bombs to play wide. That's kind of the case here. I don't think you'd find anyone who would say that this picture successfully accomplishes what it sets out to. It doesn't. At the same time, it's a film that tried and didn't succeed, as opposed to one that doesn't try at all. Maybe DVD is the right place for it; Mama's Boy never had a shot at box office glory despite its starry cast, yet there are things about it that are not altogether unappealing. You wouldn't want to pay $8 to see it, but to stick it in your Netflix queue…perhaps.

Heder plays Jeffrey Mannus who, as a child, swore on his late father's grave that he would forever take care of mom Jan (Keaton). Now 29, Jeffrey continues to live at home in a state of suspended adolescence. Jan packs his lunch before work every day, and their free time is spent doing things together. Their situation changes when Jan meets Mert Rosenbloom (Daniels), a motivation speaker who's just as attracted to her as she is to him. Jeffrey resents the intrusion upon his mother's attention and tries to sabotage the relationship. At the same time, he meets a cute coffee shop employee/aspiring singer named Nora (Faris) who has the same general worldview as he does, but who is also slightly more mature. Jan encourages her son to pursue Nora in hopes that Jeffrey will grow up and get a life of his own.

Good set-up, good cast. So where does Mama's Boy go wrong? It's in the relationship between Jeffrey and Jan and, subsequently, between Heder and Keaton. For some unknown reason, the screenplay puts an impossibly huge chip on Jeffrey's shoulder. Although he is incessantly clingy with his mother, he also holds a lot of resentment toward her, occasionally even treating her with cruelty. Since taking care of her appears to be his own choice, Jeffrey's animosity toward her comes off not as funny (as it's intended) but as kind of creepy. He seems like nothing so much as an overgrown jerk. It would have helped to give the character feelings of guilt rather than of spite. After all, if he's so unhappy living with his mother, why doesn't he just leave?

The scenario is confused to begin with, and it isn't helped by the fact that Heder and Keaton have no chemistry together. The scenes they share are curiously flat given that both stars have a talent for goofy comedy. Perhaps they could have done better with a more developed screenplay; trying to make this parent/child dynamic work would be hard for anyone. The actors can't prevent the interactions between Jan and Jeffrey from being the wrong (unfunny) kind of pathetic.

Nevertheless, there were two things I really liked about Mama's Boy: Jeff Daniels and Anna Faris. Granted, I'd watch either of these two actors in just about anything, but even so, they at least bring some energy to the proceedings. Daniels puts a couple of unique twists on the cliché of a motivational speaker while still nailing the kind of incessantly sunny personality we'd expect someone in that field to possess. He earns a few laughs here. So does Faris, who I think is very underrated. This girl just has a spark that makes you want to watch her no matter what's going on around her. With her deadpan line readings and impassioned delivery of Nora's ditzy anti-corporate songs, Faris is definitely the best thing going in this movie. If you're a fan of either actor, you may want to check Mama's Boy out just to see their work.

There are admittedly some things in the story that made me laugh, including a funny montage of Jeffrey and Mert trying to sabotage one another. It's just that I expected to laugh a lot harder and more frequently. Mama's Boy isn't what I'd call a terrible movie. Instead, it's a movie that assembles a lot of interesting elements that never gel. Maybe that, more than anything, is why the flick got buried. Given the cast and high concept, audiences surely would have anticipated more than Mama's Boy has to offer. But do worse movies get wide releases? Absolutely.

( out of four)

DVD Features:

Mama's Boy comes in both widescreen and fullscreen formats on the same disc. Director Tim Hamilton provides a solid audio commentary, talking about production and elaborating on the making of the film. There are also about six minutes of deleted scenes that regrettably don't do much to explain fill in the gaps in the Jeffrey/Jan relationship.

Mama's Boy is rated PG-13 for language including sexual references, and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.

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