Jul 19, 2015

[Movies] Helicopter Mom (2014)

I love Nia Vardalos. She's a charming actress who has made a number of memorable movies. However I've come to realize that she's a lot better in movies that she herself has written as opposed to merely the ones that she stars in. For such movies, not even her charming portrayal of the role is enough to save a movie and make it better. I can't provide scientific data to support this, but that's just how things strike me in the end.

Helicopter Mom, however, is probably one of those movies that I'll use as evidence of that above claim. It's a movie with a bit of a vague title based on a saying that's probably more common in slightly more limited circles and one that probably won't become a thing even after this movie.

I don't know how things ended up the way they did here. The movie is a bit of a train wreck in terms of concept and even with execution. I guess it had its heart in the right place but it got really, really lost along the way. And that sort of breaks my heart given my love for her, but no one's perfect. And this feels especially true when you only have movies to base majority of an opinion about a person.

Synopsis: Helicopter Mom is a comedy directed by Salomé Breziner with a screenplay Duke Tran. It premiered at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival and saw commercial release earlier this year.

Maggie (Nia Vardalos) is our titular helicopter mom - an overly doting parent who constantly "hovers" over her only son Lloyd (Jason Dolley). And while she only wants the best for her son, as is the case for any parent, her overbearing nature can get quite overwhelming and teenage Lloyd is becoming increasingly frustrated with her. And things get even worse when she starts to get it in her head that her son might be gay and she wants to be 100% supportive of this aspect of his character.

Lloyd himself isn't exactly clear on where he stands - and that's pretty much par for the course when you're a teenager. Although his rather sensitive, poetic nature coupled with his mom's recent decision to join the PTA has Lloyd forming a new friendship with Carrie (Skyler Samuels), who is a cheerleader and daughter of his mom's PTA rival of sorts. But even that may not be enough to keep Llyod from going crazy as his mom decides to apply for a college scholarship meant for openly gay teens on his behalf.

The very premise of the movie is meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek - I get that. I can generally go along with some pretty crazy ideas, but this one definitely rubbed me the wrong way. It's bad enough to out someone else - it's worse to make assumptions about another person's gender and then try to act on those assumptions in this horribly public manner. And for a mother to be the one to lead the call is rather concerning - it feels like she knows little to nothing about her son given her thinking here. And that can be pretty disappointing.

As ridiculous as the premise is, it still feels like Nia Vardalos's performance was beyond caricature. It was just a bit too much and it's hard to comprehend that a mother would really do all this. It seems a small miracle that her son didn't run away or even consider self-harm earlier than that. I don't mean to make light of suicide here - it just felt so horrible. Any moments of joy were probably painfully awkward moments for the most part.

Jason Dolley is a bit of a neutral character in this movie, which is sad since he's pretty much the lead male actor. He's okay, but is neither great nor terrible and thus doesn't really have that much of an impact beyond things. I kind of expected him to react more or somehow make more of a stand and the third act sexual confusion felt rather tacked on. With his mom going on about things, I wish he had a bit more sense of self as opposed to what happened here that seemed to be closer to his sexuality only becoming more fluid in response to the plot.

So the situations get really contrived in this movie and the only saving grace is that Lloyd's biological father is the rather cool yet mellow Max (Mark Boone Junior), who is a sea of calm amid all this madness. His moments with Lloyd are quite insightful and it seems a surprise to me that Lloyd hasn't made a stronger effort to have him as primary parent as opposed to his mother. And yes, that's how bad I think things are in this movie and any logical teenager would probably do something crazy in response to things.

Helicopter Mom is a sad failure of a movie that sort of started with an idea and then ran with random concepts that came along. In the end it didn't really make a point about anything and you kind of wish that the movie had never come to be. Thus the movie only gets 1 moment of clarity for Nia Vardalos in this movie out of a possible 5.

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