PG, and for really weird reasons. Like, I totally agree. This movie should not be G rated, but I don't think I've ever written, "because the parents are terrible people." Like, the entire movie is about intentional child endangerment, leading to the kids planning horrible death traps for their kids. This is Tim Burton movie with a better color scheme. There's a lot of talk about wanting to be orphans. There's constant risk to children. There's also probably the odd concept that kids should rebel against their parents, which I can't have around my house. PG.
DIRECTORS: Kris Pearn, Cory Evans, and Rob Lodermeier
It's my wife's birthday. Today has consisted of me getting early morning pancakes, giving my wife her birthday gifts, and then getting a filling. Her goal today is to relax and do puzzles in her book. I was sitting down, eager to read my book (The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah) and then remembered, "Oh, it's Friday, not Saturday. You need to write.) That's fine. The Willoughbys was the biggest surprise pick. I couldn't get the Amazon Fire Stick to work on the outdoor projector for some reason, so we had to rely on old Netflix for a movie. (Netflix and Hulu work on our Blu-Ray player and nothing else is worth our time out there.) For a surprise movie, it was pretty excellent.
Part of me was terrified to see this movie. I watched the trailer on Facebook for the movie, and then I discovered it was a movie about a bunch of kids trying to kill their parents. The whole children-trying-to-get-rid-of-guardians thing is becoming a worrisome trend in our house. My daughter is low-key obsessed with A Series of Unfortunate Events and I'm just starting to take the hint. That trailer made it seem like they were just a bunch of kids trying to bump off their parents. Thank the Lord that it is far more than that. Again, like Count Olaf, the parents are horrible human beings that actively loathe their children. The movie presents these parents as comically bad parents. They are almost unaware that their children exist. And the kids aren't trying to kill their parents. They're just trying to get their parents to abandon them, which is somehow better? Listen, I didn't want to show my kids this movie and now I have. I can probably live with that. It ended up being a slightly darker movie than they normally watch, but overall, it was fine. The thing that sold us? The vocal cast. There's a lot of great actors in this movie and we tend to turn a blind eye to what's good for our kids if we want to see the movie overall.
I find the movie's message kind of confusing, but that's what makes this blog worth writing. Some movies aggressively defy me to write something meaningful about them, and this might be one of those movies that do so. The primary conflict in this movie rests between the protagonist, Tim, and his parents. Based on a book by Lois Lowry (which both makes sense and makes absolutely no sense), Tim has this epic heritage behind him. He feels the weight of his ancestors on his shoulders to become something impressive and historic. I get it. It's a cool character trait to have. After all, we can't all be winners. But his parents stand in the way of history. Fundamentally selfish human beings, the couple is so obsessed with their love / lust (?) for one another that they place that love at the center of every decision made in the household. Now, a sane relationship based on love would understand that any children that might be the product of such a love might only expand that love. After all, I anecdotally assume that everyone has the same feelings about children that I do. Instead, the Parents Willoughby actively scorn the children and find them to be distractions from one another. Narratively, it is such a bizarre message to talk about the reason for the parents' cruelty as one that can be defined as love. These people are capable of emotion. They aren't scornful of one another; they are scornful of their children. Don't get me wrong, I often think that I just want to hang out with my wife rather than have to clean up more nonsense around the house. But there's this insane motivation behind everything that goes on in the movie. In terms of directorial success, the movie does sell the concept that this is a really bizarre reality where pretty much everything exists in a stage of absolutes.
The movie never really tells us that it is a world of absolutes though. Tim is a failure because he can't grow a mustache. The parents' understanding of love is limited to one person. A candy maker adopts the first child that comes his way. A nanny is either perfect or awful. Basically, the world is one entire black-or-white fallacy, but it only makes sense if that's how it makes sense. For as bizarre as Tim's siblings and he are, they come across as fairly normal because of how the rules of this world make sense. It's actually why I appreciate the parents' reactions to being saved by the children.
The end completely sells the movie for me. I mean, I had a good time throughout. There's a lot of gags that really cracked me up and I completely enjoyed. But I also am really tired of formula when it comes to kids' movies. The movie has this long setup for the theme of the movie. Tim, in all of his attempts to become an orphan, loses sight of the fact that his parents have to have some value. I was completely ready to have Tim shift focus away from being an orphan to being someone who has to keep trying. After all, for all we know, Tim is an unreliable narrator. The movie really points hard to that too. There's this implication that the parents encountering a near-death experience might give them a heavy lesson on the meaning of life and love, but that never happens. This is where I stand up and applaud because that would be way too simple. Sure, other movies might do that, but not The Willoughbys. There is this dynamic character shift in Tim where he realized that he made all kinds of mistakes. But those mistakes were the best choices in a series of terrible other options. Yeah, Tim continues to make other big mistakes, but the central mistake he made...wasn't a mistake at all? There's something really satisfying about the parents stealing the zeppelin because it just reminds us that people don't always act the way we want them to act. Trust me. This is a high point in cinema for me.
But the one thing about having such bizarre rules in a movie is that we don't know what choices the characters really have. Any kind of figment of law doesn't really exist in the world of The Willoughbys. It's almost as if this is a child's interpretation of how law has to work. The candy maker is simply allowed to keep a baby, despite the fact that the factory is a super dangerous place for the baby to live. (That baby nearly dies a dozen times and that's a choice.) Social services is a kid jail. I kind of want to ruminate on that for a second. Social services and child protective services often get bad raps for making sure that kids have a safe place to sleep. But Tim is actually put inside a prison cell, which makes these characters completely unsympathetic. It's actually Maya Rudolph's Nanny character, who is ultimately a lawbreaker, who comes across as a far more sympathetic character. But she's not meant to keep those kids. The parents are still completely distant and negligent. It's all through the power of love that everything resolves itself.
Trying to attach a greater meaning to this movie is a futile task. Sometimes a movie is just a cute movie. There's a narrator who admits that the story wouldn't work unless we kind of shut our brains off. Yeah, he's played by Ricky Gervais. That's pretty on the nose for me, and that's what the movie is about the entire time. There's not much depth, but it is super fun and kind of witty. Not everything, apparently, can have a deeper meaning. (Besides the fact that family is the one you make, not the one you are given. But that's cliche at this point and I refuse to write an essay on it.)
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.