Most people can physically be parents, but not everyone should exercise this biological right. In fact, potential parents should be actively screened before being permitted to procreate. If they pass an all-encompassing mental health test and show abundant signs of competency, then give them a license, and they can bring yet another human being into the overpopulated world. While this declaration may seem harsh and naturally, tongue-in-cheek, movies like Loverboy make me think the idea may have some validity behind it.
Emily Stoll (Kyra Sedgwick) has fantasized her entire life about being a mother, despite the fact that she is a controlling mental-case. In the film’s opening segments, she confesses, “I never wanted a house, never wanted a husband; what I wanted with every cell of my body was a baby.” After several failed attempts at artificial insemination, she goes to Plan B, which involves sleeping with a large variety of the strangers she encounters while traveling around the country. She calls herself a ‘nomadic huntress’, which sounds a lot more impressive than ‘a pathetic, promiscuous baby-craver’. After seducing a sexy conventioneer named Paul (Campbell Scott), she finally gets pregnant, and names her son after him.
As a child, she felt ignored and unloved by her parents, Marty (Kevin Bacon) and Sybil (Marisa Tomei). The couple was so passionate for each other that she felt like a side effect of their affection, rather than a welcomed addition to the family. The film jumps several times back and forth from the present to the past, with classic tunes playing and a dream-like quality to the flashbacks, similar to an episode of TV’s “Cold Case.” Her unsatisfactory childhood leads her to desperately want a child of her own, and to shower it with all the love she feels she didn’t receive. While this mentality is typical in young girls who lovingly cradle baby dolls in their arms, it’s a bit embarrassing to see a grown woman still embodying this juvenile urge. If you want a baby purely to have someone love you and give love in return, why not just buy a puppy and call it a day?
Flash forward to the present tense, where Emily is living in suburbia with her adorable 6-year-old son, Paul (Dominic Scott Kay). Believing that public school “beats the exceptional right out of you”, she subjects him to home-schooling, crowning herself as his only teacher. Rather than hitting the books or solving equations, they spend time painting the walls, dancing in the rain, and digging in the backyard for old treasures. Every day is summer camp, and conformity is avoided like a new strain of bacteria. The neighbors all think they’re weird, but that just makes Emily feel successful in her quest.
Eventually, all children rebel against authority, and Paul is no exception. He begins to resent not being in school or surrounded by people his own age. He no longer appreciates the name ‘Loverboy’ that Emily has bestowed on him since birth. “Stop calling me that, my name is Paul!” he exclaims in mid-tantrum. And you can’t blame him, since it’s not the most masculine name with which to woo the ladies on the playground. After a series of losing battles Emily reluctantly enrolls him in school, agonizing over her son’s newfound desire for independence and growth. She responds by neurotically visiting school during his recess; beckoning him to play carefully and psychotically lashing out at a teacher she thinks is trying to steal her son away. Her entire life has revolved around this child, and now he is outgrowing her. The transition sends Emily into a deep emotional abyss, where tragedy and a series of unfortunate events ensue.
Despite strong acting and a promising directorial effort by Bacon, the film ultimately misses the mark due to distasteful characterization and an unconvincing script. Kyra Sedgwick gives one of the best performances of her career, but it is impossible to root for a character that gives Mommy Dearest a run for her money. There is no real motivation offered for her cruel behavior towards this child she claims to love so intensely. My hatred for her character grew so extensively that I found myself praying for child protective services to show up and put ‘Loverboy’ in foster care. The movie features many familiar faces in cameo roles (Campbell Scott, Oliver Platt, Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock), but does not give the actors much to do with their time. It’s a bundle of celebrities placed into insignificant roles, merely for the excuse to advertise an ‘all-star cast.’ It’s a horrifying shame to witness uber-talented Campbell Scott given substantially less screen time than Marisa Tomei.
The main problem with Loverboy is that while little of it rings true, and it at times appears cartoonish, you can tell Bacon and Sedgwick take their subject matter very seriously. Screenwriter Hannah Shakespeare suffers the same ailment, and certainly does not live up to her last name. The film is an unconvincing thriller because too many scenes are unintentionally comical, and it fails as a dark comedy because of extreme self-importance. Even the most forgiving moviegoer is unlikely to view the despicable lead character as semi-sympathetic. The kicker for me is the ridiculously inappropriate ending, which is so over-the-top and insulting that my eyes literally ached from rolling them so hard. The final product could have been groundbreaking if even a minute of it felt believable. Instead, we wind up with a big bowl of Jello posing unsuccessfully as Creme Brulee.
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