Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Reviews:


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In the ‘90s, parenting becomes even more complicated, especially in the Chris Columbus film “Stepmom,” with Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon. Columbus, who like his namesake believes that he is actually in India, is a protégé of John Hughes and has directed “Mrs. Doubtfire”, “Home Alone, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York”, and someday soon, “Home Alone 3: Lost in a Foster Home.”

Roberts plays Isabel, a shallow, conniving homewrecker who tries to insert herself into the lives of a weak-willed father and his two unsuspecting children (I admit, my own biases may be getting in my way here). Ed Harris plays the father, Luke Harrison. Luke is in the Business, a business where he makes over $89,000,000 a year with his company GeneriCo. Unfortunately his job leaves him little time to deal with his life, and when he lets his guard down, Julia Roberts steps in, becoming his girlfriend before he has time to object. Luke has a vague memory of children somewhere in the back of his mind, and sure enough, it turns out there are two of them and they’re both his with his ex-wife, Jackie (Sarandon). The film is essentially a chronicle of a nasty custody battle—set to syrupy music. And though I’d certainly like to believe that any parent would do everything in her power to fight for the best interest of the children, it’s tough to accept in the case of these kids. Why can’t Hollywood pick children? It was Richie on The Dick Van Dyke Show who set the bad precedent. He was a horrible, shrill child who attempted to use his cuteness like a cudgel, beating the audience mercilessly with his adorableness.

Luke’s boy, Ben (Liam Aiken), is a just slightly more animate Muppet, or maybe an updated Mason Reese, the kid torn the Underwood deviled ham ad. Luke’s girl, Anna (Jena Malone), is sour and mean, like a very young Denny’s waitress.

The drama takes place as they go about their normal life: launching radio-controlled boats, horseback riding, putting on school plays with $300,000 budgets. Does Columbus have any idea what real people do? (Not that the movies should always have to depict real people. If that were true, how would you account for Jim Carrey?) People don’t horseback ride; they go to Target and buy socks. I’m not suggesting that he make a movie showing people doing the mundane; I’m suggesting that he thought he had made a movie showing people doing the mundane. He’s out of touch, probably because he’s so rich from the Home Alone series and the money he scammed off Queen Isabella of Spain.

Because the plot is going nowhere, they give the Sarandon character cancer, and she responds by angrily sweeping everything off the countertop surfaces, which as we all know is what you do when you’re in a rock video, not a Chris Columbus film. To ease the pain of cancer she begins smoking dope, which works well but has the unfortunate side effect of making you think that Kansas was really a pretty good group. The worst thing for her is knowing that Roberts’s character will raise her children when she’s gone. The only thing worse would be knowing that Eric Roberts is going to be raising your children when you gone.

Roughly 45% of the film is comprised of characters grabbing hairbrushes and lip-synching to comfortable old Motown songs. Musically the film wants you to know it won’t hurt you. It plays gentle, thorough music. Familiar songs—songs you already know, and know well. There are no sharp edges on the soundtrack; they’ve all been covered in a thick layer of protective foam. This is music that smothers you gently.

I think the music’s duty is to distract your attention away from the fact that the film is really, really long. It’s a Möbius strip of repeated scenes, and though it seems to go on for hundreds of thousands of years, it’s actually longer. I believe this is the first film whose duration represents an actual infinity. I’m not talking about a potential infinity (e.g., whole numbers) that can be represented on paper only, but an actually infinite period of time. This means, of course, that I’m still watching “Stepmom,” which I am, even though I finished watching it some time ago. I approached a point where I thought an ending might be coming (it was illusory) wherein Sarandon has the children come and say good-bye to her as she lies dying on the bed. She explains her death to her son by using the analogy of a caterpillar changing into a butterfly. She leaves out the part where she squirts the sticky liquid from her spinarettes, covering her body in a hard casing in preparation for her pupal stage.

On the DVD there’s a bonus featurette included. The interesting thing about it is that watching it immediately after watching the film adds no time to the whole experience—because the length of the movie is an actual infinity! If you add one to infinity, you still have infinity. Even if you watch “Stepmom” an infinite number of times, you’ll still have watched it no longer than the person who watched it only once.

"Stepmom" availabilty on video and on DVD from Amazon.com

Sorry, no bodycount in this one like Kathleen Turner's in Serial Mom, or that guy in MonsterVision host segments of The Stepfather

Books by Michael Nelson available from Amazon.com include Movie Megacheese. Mike's episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are available from Amazon.com on both video and on DVD, and he co-wrote the MST3000 book

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Chris Columbus also directed MonsterVision favorite
Adventures In Babysitting

© 2000 Michael J. Nelson. All rights reserved, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles & reviews. Mike Nelson is no relation to Lloyd Bridges and has never run low on air while hunting around under the sea.