Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Spanking the Monkey




Written and directed by David O. Russell, Spanking the Monkey is the story of a medical student who is forced to stay home to take care of his injured mother as time spent with his mother lead to a troubling incest relationship. The film is an incest comedy of sorts of a young man who is trying to gain an internship as he is forced to return home by his father leading to all sorts of trouble. Starring Jeremy Davies, Alberta Watson, Carla Gallo, and Benjamin Hendrickson. Spanking the Monkey is a witty and offbeat film from David O. Russell.

The film revolves around a medical student whose plan to attend an internship in Washington is shattered when his mother is injured in an accident forcing him to take care of her for the summer while his father is away on business. The day-to-day routine of taking care of his mother and dog as well as doing household chores and lack of contact with others with the exception of a high school student lead to an unexpected incest relationship with his mother. David O. Russell’s screenplay explores the troubled summer of Raymond Aibelli (Jeremy Davies) whose chance to gain this important internship comes to question as he’s being forced to take care of his mother Susan (Alberta Watson) while his dad is away on business at the last minute.

Susan becomes needy not just because of her injury but also due to depression as it adds to Raymond’s frustration just as he met a young high school student in Toni Peck (Carla Gallo) who is interested in going to M.I.T. The chances to get his internship would be complicated by his father’s absence and mother’s neediness as it would lead to some events that Raymond wouldn’t expect as Russell would tell it in a darkly-comic presentation. Notably as the second half of the film is about the aftermath of this incest-driven affair and Raymond struggling with what had happened as it relates to his parents’ marriage which is becoming strained and filled with indifference.

Russell’s direction is largely simple in terms of its presentation as it is shot largely on location in Pawling, New York. While there’s some wide shots in the film, much of Russell’s direction is emphasized on close-ups and medium shots to get a look into the characters as well as using simple compositions to play into Raymond’s relationship with his mother as the close-ups also add to this sexual tension between the two as well as Raymond’s sexual attraction towards Toni. The approach to comedy is low-key as well as emphasizing on the awkward as it relates to the film’s second half in which Raymond discovers what he did with his mother and revelations about his relationship with his father. Even as he is forced to come to the fact that his father’s absence and selfishness has played a part in his mother’s emotional state and neediness that becomes too much for Raymond to handle who is in need to fend for himself and find his own path. Overall, Russell crafts a provocative and whimsical comedy about a medical student being forced to take care of his injured mother only to end up in a strange incest relationship.

Cinematographer Michael Mayers does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely straightforward in terms of its low-budget approach with some low-key lighting for some of the exterior scenes at night. Editor Pamela Martin does nice work with the editing as it include a few montages for some of the daily activities Raymond does as well as rhythmic cuts to play into its humor. Production designer Susan Block does fantastic work with the look of the home Raymond and his family live in as well as a few places he and his mother go to in the film’s second half.

Costume designer Carolyn Greco does nice work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward without anything stylish. Sound editor Steve Visscher does superb work with some of the sparse moments of the sound in the locations as well as what is heard from a TV as well as some of the noises from the inside. The film’s music by David Carbonara is wonderful for its folk-based score that is largely driven by acoustic guitars to play up the film’s humor while music supervisor Bonnie Greenberg provides a fun soundtrack that largely consists of music by the alternative-jazz band Morphine from their 1993 album Cure for Pain.

The casting by Ellen Parks is brilliant as it feature some notable small roles from Nancy Fields as a doctor, the trio of Josh Philip Weinstein, Zak Orth, and Matthew Puckett as friends of Raymond, and Judette Jones as Aunt Helen who briefly helps Raymond taking care of his mother. Benjamin Hendrickson is superb as Raymond’s father Tom who is a traveling salesman that goes away on business for the last minute as he’s bossy and demanding while is also hiding things that he doesn’t want Raymond nor Susan to know. Carla Gallo is fantastic as Toni Peck as a high school student who is intrigued by the idea of college while falling for Raymond prompting an unexpected relationship.

Alberta Watson is excellent as Susan as a woman with an injured leg who is depressed and needy as it play into someone that feels lost and unimportant using Raymond as someone who can fulfill her emotional needs. Finally, there’s Jeremy Davies in an amazing performance as Raymond Aibelli as a medical student who is forced to skip an important internship to stay home where he deals with taking care of his mother as well as his own sexual frustrations as it include a gag of him masturbating in the bathroom only to be interrupted by the dog.

Spanking the Monkey is a marvelous film from David O. Russell. Featuring a great cast and a disturbing yet riveting story of incest, sexual frustration, and emotional neediness. It’s a film that approaches a taboo subject with some offbeat humor as it play into a young man having to be there for his troubled mother only to get more than he bargained for. In the end, Spanking the Monkey is a remarkable film from David O. Russell.

David O. Russell Films: Flirting with Disaster - Three Kings - I Heart Huckabee's - The Fighter - Silver Linings Playbook - American Hustle - Accidental Love - Joy (2015 film) - (The Auteurs #70: David O. Russell)

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