Fantastic Fest Review: MOM AND DAD Enthusiastically Explores The Frustrations Of Parenthood
For all the sentiment out there about the joys of parenting, everyone also knows it’s kind of a horrible, thankless job. You put these new humans out in the world, give up your time, youth and identities to them, and before you know it, they turn on you - make you feel like some kind of out of touch idiot no way able to match their superior 15-year-old intellect. Heartwarming stories about loving families abound, but it’s nice to get a little balance and reality in there as well.
Which is exactly what Mom and Dad sets out to do. The film stars Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair as tired parents of a teenage daughter and significantly younger son. One day they - along with everyone else in their town - inexplicably have a sudden, inescapable urge to murder their own children. And boy do they go for it.
Things kick off rather quickly in Mom and Dad. We spend a little time meeting this family and understanding their dynamics. Daughter Carly (Anne Winters) is distant and hates her mother. Son Josh (Zachary Arthur) loves to wrestle and pal around with his dad. Almost as soon as this groundwork gets set out, writer-director Brian Taylor sets his idyllic suburb upon its kids, mostly in one great sequence in which parents arrive at a high school like a mob of hungry zombies. We watch as the kids try to make a break for it. Some are successful. Others are not.
A movie like this requires a tricky balance when it comes to violence. The threat to these children cannot be soft, but you also don’t want to get mired in hard to watch gore. Taylor absolutely nails this. We see kids die for sure, but these deaths are not all that gratuitous - the best one being just a creepy implication. Much of the harder violence is saved for the adults. No one would call this movie weak, but it’s also soft enough to keep its tone, central metaphor and humor from getting lost in mean-spirited violence.
But make no mistake. Shit gets crazy. Once the film shifts to a cat and mouse game between Carly and Josh and their gleeful, murderous parents, there’s never a sense that anyone is holding back. Part of this is due to Taylor’s bizarre, jittery directing style and inappropriate comedy hijinks (if there was any doubt who had the most influence on the Crank films between Neveldine and Taylor, I think this sets that to rest), but also thanks to the incredibly fun performances from the two leads.
Look, Nicolas Cage is going to get all the accolades for his unhinged acting here, which is a shame because Selma Blair is absolutely great in this, matching both the tone of the script and the maniac she has to work with perfectly. Underneath all the funny bloodshed, Mom and Dad is a sad film about the difficulties of losing yourself to parenting. It takes skilled actors to pull that off, and Blair runs away with it.
And yes, Cage is going full Cage here. The film already has an infamous scene in which he destroys a pool table while singing “The Hokey Pokey” - this is a flashback, by the way, to illustrate how unhinged Taylor’s world is just by default - but Cage is actually more nuts and impressive here while utilizing his smaller tics and strange line readings. There are a lot of Nicolas Cage movies out there, and it’s getting harder to know which ones are worth your time. This is one of them.
Years ago, people went nuts over a relatable faux-children’s book called Go the Fuck to Sleep. This offers a more extreme version of that sentiment. For the most part, no one actually wants to kill their children, but deep down you do kind of want to knock them around a little because a lot of them are little assholes. You don’t admit it, and you certainly don’t actually do it. But it’s there. Mom and Dad explores that dark part of ourselves in a way that remains fun regardless of how fucked up it all is.