Directed By: Tim Hamilton
Starring: John Heder, Diane Keaton, Jeff Daniels, Anna Faris, Eli Wallach
Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder plays yet another misanthropic man-child. In this case, he is Jeffrey Mannus, a 29 year old who still lives at home with his mother, Jan (Keaton). Jan and Jeffrey have both had trouble moving on with their lives since the death of Jeffrey's father almost two decades earlier. Jeffrey has spent his teen and adult life living at home and making paltry wages working at a bookstore owned by his father's friend, Seymour (Wallach). His spare time is spent participating in renaissance festival-style mock battles, paging through his comic book collection with white jeweler's gloves, and pursuing his lifelong interest in astronomy. For her part, Jan schedules her whole non-working life around Jeffrey. When Jan begins dating a motivational speaker named Mert Rosenbloom (Daniels), Jeffrey feels threatened and begins actively trying to sabotage their relationship. Mert strives to counter every one of Jeffrey's moves, and is generally quite successful. In the mean time, Jeffrey strikes up an awkward friendship with Nora (Faris), an aspiring singer of anti-corporation protest songs, and enlists her usually reluctant aid in his plans to break-up Jan and Mert.
I thought this film was a direct-to-video release, but it apparently played in some limited theatrical engagements, primarily in the southern United States. While it is far from outstanding, I thought it deserved a wider release than that. The plot is extremely formulaic and offers almost no surprises, but there are some moments of character-based humor that actually gave me a good dozen chuckles throughout. Most of these involved scenes with Jeff Daniels, who actually manages to bring a little life to the otherwise predictable proceedings. Diane Keaton's knack for creating characters that seem both grounded and funny remains intact, but Heder's one-note character is painted way too broadly to generate any rooting interest in his personal development through the film. One almost wishes the focus was more on Jan and Mert with Jeffrey as a misanthropic supporting character presenting as an obstacle to their relationship. The middle section of the film where Jeffrey and Mert escalate their rivalry is moderately amusing, but if you have seen Rushmore, then you have seen it done better. Anna Faris is actually pretty amusing playing an erstwhile folk singer and potential romantic interest for Jeffrey, but her character is somewhat sabotaged by the inability of the film to establish any reason that she would put up with his creepy misanthropy.
Maybe it is just a sign of my age, but I have to admit that I enjoyed the film's soundtrack with a score by Mark Mothersbaugh and a selection of songs heavily weighted towards 80s British alternative artists such as The Jam and The Smiths. Arguably, this music is about ten years behind the music to which Jeffrey and Nora would have grown up listening, but it fits with the idea of Jeffrey being stuck in the past, I guess. Fans of such music should stay through the closing credits to hear Billy Bragg sing complete versions of two of the amusing anti-corporation songs composed by Mothersbaugh and his Devo co-conspirator Bob Casale for Faris' character to perform in the film.
The widescreen video presentation on the first side of the double-sided single-layered DVD-10 fills the entire 16:9 enhanced screen. The film has very good sharpness with decent contrast and color for most of its running time. There are definitely incidents of compression artifacts that could likely have been avoided if the film were encoded on a double layered disc, but they are relatively infrequent. If forced to choose, I would definitely take sporadic compression noise over the heavily filtered look of other recent Warner titles encoded on single layered discs such as P.S. I Love You and No Reservations. I did not review the full frame presentation on the disc's flip-side.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is encoded at 384 kbps. The mix comes to life primarily during the music passages, but is otherwise fairly unambitious. Light atmospheric touches occasionally fill the surrounds, but even the scenes that would seem to lend themselves to some increased dimensionality, such as those in the "Jazz Oddysey" club, do not really exploit the opportunity.
The first extra on the disc is a screen specific audio commentary from director Tim Hamilton. Hamilton talks about how his first feature film came together, expresses appreciation for his luck in landing actors such as Keaton and Daniels that helped him get the film made and attract other talented people to the project, and relays several facts and anecdotes about the film's production. Although not an especially dynamic speaker, he manages to keep things moving for the entire track, and the detailed anecdotes illustrate that the experience of making the film is clearly still fresh in his mind.
The only other extra on the disc is a collection of four Deleted Scenes presented in 4:3 letterboxed video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. They are not selectable separately from the DVD menu, but they are chapter encoded so that viewers can skip between them. Their content and running times are as follows:
- Jeffrey and Mert meet at the Jazz Odyssey club after they have both had a falling out with Jan. (1:47)
- Jeffrey says goodbye as Nora gets on a bus (1:28)
- Jeffrey and Seymour play Scrabble at a senior center and Jeffrey is exposed as a cheater (1:31)
- Jeffrey and Anna discuss his largely fictional romantic history while on a road trip(1:28)
When the disc first spins up, the viewer is greeted with the following promotional spots presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 sound with video format and running time as indicated below:
- Anti-Piracy PSA using clips from "Casablanca" (4:3 – 1:00)
- Semi-Pro DVD trailer (16:9 enhanced - :40)
- Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show trailer (16:9 enhanced – 1:19)
- Over Her Dead Body DVD trailer (4:3 letterboxed - :34)
- Get Smart theatrical Teaser (4:3 letterboxed – 1:16)
The disc is packaged in a standard Amaray-style case with no insert. The cover image makes Heder's Jeffrey look more demented than funny, which constitutes truth in advertising by encapsulating the film's biggest miscue. 16:9 enhanced widescreen and 4:3 full frame presentations occupy either side of a double-sided single-layered DVD-10 with extras repeated on both sides.
Mama's Boy is a formulaic comedy centering on a typecast Jon Heder as a clueless anti-social loser. Supporting performances from Jeff Daniels, Diane Keaton, and Anna Faris provide a few easy laughs, but the film is otherwise a bit predictable and marred by a main character that is too unlikeable and Oedipally creepy to be sympathetic. The film is presented with a good but sporadically bit-starved 16:9 enhanced widescreen video presentation and a completely unreviewed by me 4:3 full frame presentation. It sports an acceptable if unremarkable audio track that highlights a collection of appealing 80s alternative songs from the film's soundtrack. Extras include an informative director's commentary and four deleted scenes.