2017: Year of Bad Movie Parents

Warning: These contain spoilers.

“They’re gazebos! They’re bullshit!” – Jack Dylan Grazier in “It (2017).”

Let’s face it.

Twenty-seventeen was a horrible year to be a child character onscreen.

Perhaps this is true of most, but I especially noticed what seemed like a never-ending array of examples of atrocious movie parenting this year. These could be roughly slotted into several categories including:

1. Parents who mean well but are otherwise too overwhelmed to focus on their kids.

2. Parents who are deliberately neglectful and/or abusive.

3. Parents for whom “doing the right thing” winds up having horrific consequences for their children.

(Of course, we still have a month to go, but I think there’s more than enough evidence to arrive at this hypothesis early.)

Grandparents were not excluded either – witness the grandmother in “Good Time” who abused her mentally handicapped adult son and wasn’t real kind to the other non-disabled one. Perhaps matching or surpassing her is the grandmother in “Gifted,” who not only destroys her daughter’s romantic relationship but attempts to put her granddaughter’s beloved cat to sleep while her father is temporarily out of the picture. Though there were also examples to offset these, including Michael Caine in “Going In Style,” who is never too busy for Joey King, despite being at risk of losing his pension. And planning a bank robbery.

Kicking off the year, we had Alexa Nisenson’s dad (Charlie Day) in “Fist Fight,” who spends most of the movie dodging fellow teacher Ice Cube who wants to inflict serious damage on him for revenge, while meanwhile his young daughter frets about her upcoming talent show performance. Then when Charlie finally arrives at her school, she flubs her first attempt (since he’s late) and then decides to rally by performing an R-rated routine directed at her nemesis.

We were also given two onscreen examples of Munchausen-by-proxy Syndrome, first with Amandla Stenberg’s mom in “Everything, Everything” who has convinced her teenage daughter that she has a disease requiring complete housebound-ness, the wearing of interchangeable white t-shirts and limited human contact – at least until a cute guy moves in next door and starts flirting with her (from a safe distance). The second came in “It (2017),” in which Jack Dylan Grazier gets an unpleasant surprise when he goes to the pharmacy to pick up his meds. He wasn’t alone in the movie – “It” was a buffet of bad parent roles from the overbearing to the distant, including Sophia Lillis’s incestuous dad. (Few lines this year are more cringe-inducing than his repeated “Are you still my little girl?”)

In another Stephen King film adaptation, “The Dark Tower,” the young protagonist’s (Tom Taylor’s) mother attempts to have him sent to an institution for troubled youths headed by supernatural killer, Jude Law and his accomplices, forcing him to flee into another dimension. In “The Circle,” a futuristic fantasy in which no dimension of life is free from being witnessed by millions, Emma Watson’s parents have the gall to be sexually active while they’re being filmed 24-7 for their daughter’s project at her new job, thereby mortifying her in front of the world.

A less inventive but perhaps equally detrimental experiment occurs in “Home Again,” in which Lola Flanery’s about-to-be-divorced mom conducts an experiment in which she attempts to see how many men she can invite to stay in their home (including dear old dad) until tension spills over to the point where there’s trouble. (Hint: Three is more than enough.) Young Noah Jupe’s mother in “Sububicon” from the little we see of her appears to be a decent parent, but she expires early in a botched robbery, leaving him at the mercies of his dad (Matt Damon) who may or may not have arranged the robbery, carries on an affair with his sister-in-law, threatens to send Noah to military school, and eventually takes notice of what’s going on next door to reveal himself to be racist.

A standout in the abusive/neglectful parent category are the mom and dad of “The Glass Castle’s” Ella Anderson’s parents, who drag her and her siblings around the US (sometimes in the back of a moving van), teach her to swim by half-drowning her, leave their kids with their creepy incestuous grandmother (another one!), and pimp her out when she’s a teen – in order for her dad to regain a debt. In contrast, Kate Mara’s mom in “Megan Leavey” who misses her daughter’s graduation, only to respond with “Can they hold it over again?” when Kate informs her of her error, seems benign, even though she clearly doesn’t get her kid.

This summer, we also got “The House,” in which Ryan Simpkins’ parents, upon realizing that their daughter’s scholarship money has been pilfered by the town for other funds, gamely embark on a journey that involves turning their neighbor’s place into an underground casino, amputating a neighbor’s digits, and breaking the law in other ways – all in order to make sure Ryan can arrive at freshman orientation in the fall on time.

Other hapless young adults onscreen include Kumail Nanjiani in “The Big Sick,” whose parents, distraught that he’s seeing a white girl, essentially disown him. At the end, the dad shows signs of détente, but mom is questionable. In “Happy Death Day,” Jessica Rothe is trapped in a time-loop that forces her to relive the anniversary of her mom’s death (and her birthday), and repeatedly rebuffs her dad’s lunch invitation, since she’s trying to evade a psycho-killer. Her dad isn’t told outright of this horror, so he may be excused for his negligence. On the other hand, earlier in the year Zoey Deutch’s mom (Jennifer Beals) in ‘Before I Fall” does not realize her child is trapped in a time loop either, but manages to be a loving parent anyway.

Were there any halfway decent guardians onscreen this year? Well, yes, but the one that stands out is a non-parent: the guardian nun (Stephanie Sigman) in “Annabelle: The Creation,” who valiantly tries to shield her orphan charges (including a young girl crippled by polio and pursued by an evil spirit). And Tom Holland’s guardian (Marisa Tomei) in “Spider Man: The Homecoming”  was also understanding of her ward’s secrecy, even when she happens upon him and his best friend half-dressed. Let’s hope 2018 brings better examples of parenting onscreen. They certainly couldn’t get much worse.

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Movie Lessons: Summer 2017 Edition

Warning: These contain spoilers.

Megan Leavey

1. If you take steps to become a more social member of your group, also make sure you avoid antisocial behavior – unless you want your boss to catch and put you on dog cleanup detail.

2. Giving your veteran daughter who is suffering from PTSD a replacement puppy after she returns from serving will only trigger an explosive fight.

3. The magic word when you ambush your Congressman to persuade him to help you adopt a service dog who has a reputation for being unpredictable is “Corporal.”

It Comes At Night

4. There’s a lot of truth to the adage: Guests and fish both start to stink after three days.

5. A teenager who’s been trapped in one place for years on end may not necessarily crave the same junk food that you do, even if you both exist in the same dystopia.

6. Even when at high risk of catching plague, it can be awfully tempting to ignore your host’s strict orders to leave certain always-locked-rooms alone.

All Eyez On Me

7. If your mom’s been incarcerated, you should pay attention when she gives you advice about dealing with jail.

8. If a woman recognizes your Shakespeare quote and quotes some back to you, that’s a good sign you two are compatible.

9. A record label owner who assures you that all his clients are treated “like family,” may have something more sinister in mind.

The House

10. Fleecing one’s neighbors is fine if they’ve just voted to use town funds for a public pool as opposed to your daughter’s college scholarship.

11. Taunting someone who you have always known as a mild-mannered soccer dad may unleash his inner “Butcher,” after he’s had a taste of casino-running.

12. Never underestimate how a close-knit family can overcome any obstacle to get their child to college – even if it involves amputation of the neighbors’ digits, extortion and kidnapping.

Spider-Man: The Homecoming

13. If you are superheroing and can’t figure out who to return a stolen bike to, it’s a good idea to leave a note.

14. If you are going to hack into an upgraded superhero costume, it’s wise to read the instruction manual before field-testing it.

15. If you are going to have a confrontation with your mentor, you should avoid the men’s room at your high school, unless you don’t mind being interrupted in the middle of a monologue by someone who needs to wash his hands.

Dunkirk

16. Even delivering an aerial blizzard of suggestions that your opponents surrender when they’re literally between the sea and a hard place, won’t work with plucky Britons (or French).

17. If you keep your mouth completely shut when everyone is arguing about what to do as their ship floods, you might be assumed to be a spy and ousted.

18. Even a pleasure boat can be instrumental in rescuing a beach of stranded soldiers in war time, if there’s a fleet of them.

The Big Sick

19. If you keep all the photos of potential Indian wives your mother fixes you up with in a box, your white girlfriend may stumble on it and assume the worst before you can explain.

20. Doctors with potential emergencies on their hands may strong-arm you into putting your girlfriend into a (medically induced) coma by simply not letting you go until you agree.

21. Meeting the parents after you put said-girlfriend into a coma will not make for the most receptive relationship, but eventually you can overcome this if both sides try.

Detroit

22. Flattery to the young woman at the front desk of a hotel will get you a room, but that might mean your trouble for the night is just beginning.

23. The adage “innocent until proven guilty” does not apply to anyone the police want to interrogate during a riot.

24. If you eventually sour on performing Motown before racist audiences, you can always make a career change by applying for a job as your church’s choir director.

The Dark Tower

25. When you can’t persuade your mom and stepdad that evil people are about to take you away, you can always fall back on the “I need to use the bathroom,” excuse to escape.

26. Even your closest youthful friends may start putting limits on your relationship if you keep showing up at odd hours with bizarre drawings, babbling about how your imaginary world is real.

27. If you’re a kid, your natural flexibility will come in more handy than any magic powers when you’re outrunning the enemy.

The Glass Castle

28. If your patient’s sister announces on a visit that she should break her arm in order to sample unlimited hospital food, and she’s not kidding, you should probably sic Child Protective Services on that family.

29. Regardless of how much they love you, you will never convince your young kids that traveling at night in the back of an airless moving van is a super fun adventure.

30. If your daughter makes an innocent comment about how school is a good idea for kids her age, it’s okay to risk your family’s life and limb pulling off the road and heading out into the desert in order to show her that she doesn’t “need” school.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

31. Amsterdam is a great place to have a high speed chase because every single unattended vehicle (and there are a lot) can easily be started by a stranger sans keys.

32. You should avoid taunting Samuel L. Jackson even when he’s in chains because he has one powerful head-butt.

33. You should avoid giving Samuel L. Jackson a speech on character before you die because he will eventually just throw back his head and guffaw. And shove you to your doom.

Movie Review: The Dark Tower

Stephen King once claimed in an interview that he’d like to be taken more seriously as a novelist by Those Critics Who Matter Most, but knows that’s not going to happen – partly because he’s not the greatest novelist of all time. That really shouldn’t matter at this point, however, considering that he’s in a position most writers would give their eyeteeth for – as even his grocery lists are examined seriously by Hollywood at this point to see if they could somehow work as a feature film. There are roughly two types of King movies: those grappling with big ideas in the real world without any detours into the supernatural and those that extend into the otherworldly realm. There are also films based on plots King probably came up with at 3 a.m. when he couldn’t sleep, such as “Thinner,” about an arrogant overweight guy who gets cursed by a gypsy and starts losing weight. “Dark Tower,” which opened recently, has all the ingredients of an enjoyable fantasy/action King film, but somehow doesn’t quite add up to a memorable movie. (Although the plot is far more original than “Thinner.”)

Drawing pictures in one’s spare time is usually considered a harmless childhood pastime, right up there with bike riding and marathon “Sesame Street” watching, but in the movies, it’s generally taken as a major danger signal that something is amiss in the kid’s (here played by Tom Taylor) life. According to his therapist, the pictures, along with the fact that Tom has bizarre, recurring dreams (read nightmares) of a dark tower, a man in black, and a gunslinger, are due to having lost his father in an accident. Unfortunately, the doctor no longer feels capable of dealing with Tom’s issues on his own, so when Tom’s school recommends that he be sent to an institution for further testing, his mom (Katheryn Winnick) reluctantly agrees. However, danger signals go off when Tom meets his new treatment team, and so he flees, manages to find a portal to the world of his dreams, and the adventures begin.

Idris Elba plays the movie good guy, the “Gunslinger,” and like most action heroes, he is resolute, stoic and concealing a painful past. Matthew McConaughey plays the bad guy, with his hair slicked back and a perpetual sneer on his face in case the viewer harbors any doubts. Idris soon hooks up with Tom, and explains things for him and those who haven’t read the series. Tom learns that the “Tower” really does exist, but can be brought down by the mind of a child with particular powers. Matthew is busy recruiting children who can possibly do this and so needs to be stopped. As Idris and Tom are pursued by any number of supernatural creatures, including one that resembles “The Neverending Story’s” Rockbiter but much less cuddly, Matthew pops through a portal to wreak havoc in the real world – also putting Tom’s mother and stepfather in peril. I won’t give away the ending, but it sets up things for a sequel, which I’m sure is planned and which I hope, is a lot better than this movie. I’d recommend that King fans wait for the remake of “It,” due out later, as long as they’re not clown-phobic.