Oh, how the time flies! It seems like just yesterday... yeah, like hell it does. It was 1983. Stagflation, the Iranian hostage crisis, and the early Reagan recession were still fresh on the American mind. In a portent of doom, Toyota introduced the Camry to the U.S. market. Was it the high-water mark of the Malaise Era? Quite possibly. And now we can celebrate one of its its most lasting cultural documents, on its 25th anniversary. That's right, Mr. Mom has hit the quarter-century mark.
Plot recap: Michael Keaton—pre-Beetlejuice, pre-Batman, when he was considered primarily a comedic talent—is a Motown car designer who gets laid off. He wagers with his wife, Teri Garr, that he can get a job before she does. But she up and trumps him, securing employment at an ad agency, under the oily supervision of the great Martin Mull. Keaton is stuck home with the kids and a nympho neighbor. He drinks beer and does a generally crappy job of keeping house. Later, he obtains redemption. It was a John Hughes script, don't you know.
The flick was an astute blending of middle-class economic paranoia and goofy sex farce, with plenty of kiddie humor tossed in. It ends on a happy note, with Keaton's old boss begging for his return because his car designs are the shits. It was the first of two Malaise Era car movies for Keaton, the other being Gung Ho, also a farce, but with xenophobia substituting for suburban gender anxiety.
With the U.S. car biz once again on the ropes, we wonder how these themes would now be presented? The gentle subtext of Mr. Mom was that Keaton had been emasculated by the downturn, and that insult was added to injury when the little wife became the breadwinner (only to enter an employment relationship right out of 1955—stay away from those randy Detroit ad men, and the workplace in general, ladies!). But America was OK with that. Sort of. As long as order was restored by the time the credits roll.
Circa 2008, however, we'd envision more of a dark fugue, an industrial apocalypse, with the Keaton of Clean and Sober taking to hard liquor, hookers and eventually some sort of violence. Teri Garr would go all Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf on him. The kids would disappear into a fantasy realm populated by dwarfs and talking lions. Keaton's former job would be outsourced and his carmaking employer would be taken over by giant robots. Then war would come and a monster would destroy Detroit. Keaton would be left wandering in a desolate wasteland, gazing upward at a toxic, blackened sky, screaming "Why? Why?" before falling to his knees and weeping. At this point the Vulcans would arrive and rescue humanity with space travel. Who needs cars when you have powerful rockets that can roam the cosmos at will?
See, it could have a happy ending, too.
Happy 25th birthday, Mr. Mom!