Spanking the Monkey

A first feature by American independent writer-director David O. Russell, this traps its hero, a premed college freshman, in his family's suburban home for the summer. Forced to give up an internship to take care of mother (laid up with a broken leg) while his philandering father, a traveling video salesman, is out on the road, the not very likable hero finds himself in one tragicomic mishap after another involving his father's convoluted instructions, care of the family dog, making out with a high school senior, and a growing sexual involvement with his desperate mother. Despite a certain originality, the movie isn't really a success, not only because the plot bites off more than it can chew (the film doesn't conclude; it simply stops), but also because, like its hero, it has some trouble distinguishing between petty irritations and cataclysmic traumas. But at least the performances are fresh and fairly nuanced. With Jeremy Davies, Elizabeth Newitt, Benjamin Hendrikson, Alberta Watson, Carla Gallo, and Richard Husson (1994).

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