Friday, December 11, 2009

Film Review: HI, MOM! (1970, Brian De Palma)

Stars: 2 of 5.
Running Time: 87 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Robert De Niro, Charles Durning, Jennifer Salt (SISTERS, MIDNIGHT COWBOY), Gerrit Graham (USED CARS, WALKER), supposed Paul Bartel cameo.
Tag-line: "God bless our humble upper-middle-class high-rise co-op and keep it free from smut peddlers, militants, urban guerrillas and Greenwich Village liberals."
Best one-liner: Umm... "Be black, baby"?

Alright, I shall finish up Hitchcock pastiche/rip-off week by once again returning to De Palma, but this time with a title that I find to be nearly unbearable. The arguments in favor of this film, I can understand. Intellectually, there are levels on which one could enjoy this film. But ultimately, for reasons I shall outline, I find this pretty much unwatchable.

I mean, this is not a terrible movie, per se, but it very much has the feel of a student film, and in the worst ways.

A big red flag is––and should always be––the excessive use of sped-up film. Some people (the Three Stooges, Stanley Kubrick, Godfrey Reggio, and occasionally Monty Python) can get away with it. But when you're making exorbitant use of it for low comedic value, you may as well set it to "Yakety Sax" and let us take turns punching you in the balls.

I love De Palma, but this is a novice work, meant to irreverently emulate films such as PIERRE LE FOU, REAR WINDOW, and PEEPING TOM. Not exactly a success on that front. It is, however––on occasion––quite amusing, as the budding Robert De Niro gets a chance to do some intense, squinty improvisation, sometimes in service to a clever idea, and sometimes not.

Like the worst of Godard (and SNL), it's extremely segmented, and each vignette loses focus (and steam) rather quickly. Highlights include Charles Durning as the sleazy Superintendent, a 'coincidence' that De Niro conjures while conning a young woman to go on a date,

and supposedly Paul Bartel's around for a 'blink and you'll miss it cameo,' but I must have blinked at the wrong time, because I totally missed it. The "Be Black, Baby" experimental theater segment addresses some volatile issues relating to race, the educated elite, and experimental pretentiousness, but then quickly falls victim to its own tedium (and some of that experimental pretentiousness it's meant to be lampooning).

I can't recommend this movie, but, if you'd like a window of insight into early 70's West Village "smut peddlers, militants, urban guerrillas, and liberals" or De Palma and De Niro's creative origins, it just might be worth a watch. Two stars.

-Sean Gill


GuyR said...

You forgot Benny Hill when mentioning people getting away with sped-up sequences. But not everyone tolerates Benny Hill (I really can't understand that fact).

Sean Gill said...

Heh, well that's actually why I mention "Yakety Sax" (Hill's theme song) as the appropriate soundtrack for punching misusers of sped-up film in the balls.

GuyR said...

Oh shit, my bad.
Well you learn something new everyday. And today it's Yakety Sax.