SPANKING THE MONKEY is a tragedy about a frighteningly
dysfunctional family. It is not an exploitive movie, but it does
manage to work in just about every taboo or controversial subject you
can think of from incest to drugs to physical self-love. Why in the
world would I give this movie a good rating? Have I lost my mind?
Well, I rated it such because it is an excellent study of the evils of
what horrifically awful parents can do to a child.
In the movie the 21-year-old boy (Jeremy Davies) is repressed,
angry, and withdrawn. He is a brilliant scholar - valedictorian of his
high school class and MIT premed student. He is just about to go to
Washington for a prestigious internship for the summer when he gets
roped by his father (Benjamin Hendrickson) into caring for his mother
(Alberta Watson) who has broken her ankle, is in a cast, and has to
stay in bed. His father on the other hand, is too busy as a traveling
salesman to do anything other than bark obtuse and impossible to follow
orders to his son. The father has a girlfriend on the side and could
care less about his family. He views them mainly as getting in the way
of him having a good time.
For purely marketing reasons I suppose, this movie is being billed
as a biting comedy. As directed by David O. Russell, it is absolutely
no such thing. It is a depressing tragedy from the start. It starts
on a low note and rapidly descends into the hell of a family gone
tragically wrong. The way the father treats the son is pathetic yet
realistic. You can feel the pain of the boy. Davies's acting is
excellent. YOU get depressed because he is so depressed.
The parental blame for what they have done to their son is shared
by the mother. Although she treats her son differently from the way
the father does, she is very manipulative as well.
The son tries to have a normal life. The only almost sweet part
of the show is his attempt at a romance with a local girl. Here too,
the horrors of his family intrude. He has no role model for a normal
relationship so his attempt at one with his putative girlfriend ends in
an abysmal failure. The movie certainly lets you know that good grades
are not enough and success can not be measured strictly by the college
your child can get in.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes