Tom Jolliffe with the 80s movie guide for the new parent…
Last December I welcomed my baby daughter into the world. It was a momentous day. My first, and like all new parents who find the weight of responsibility fall into their lap after 9 months of increasing inevitability, I suddenly realised I had absolutely no fucking idea what to do for the next 18 years of raising this little blob into becoming an adult. Sure I could have asked other parents, or Googled, but I decided that perhaps watching a load of parentally themed films from the 80’s might be a better idea.
So what can we say about the parental movie of the 80’s? This isn’t merely about someone being a genetic mother or father I should point out, but it’s the notion of the protagonist(s) being blissfully unprepared for parental responsibility being thrust upon them either temporarily or permanently, whether the baby is theirs, or a relatives.
Upon scouring viewing choices there were some obvious ones (that I grew up watching) and some further digging beyond for films I’d not seen before but were ready and waiting on one streaming platform or another. One thing I noticed about the 80’s parental comedy (and I’ve opted for the more comically themed films, but they tend to be the more common…and I’m not going more outside the box with a choice like Aliens for example) is just how hilariously dated many of the themes were. The depiction of the clueless male completely bewildered by parenting (even his own children) because he spends all his time working and comes home to do easy things like being fun.
Firstly, whilst it’s perhaps a little more curveball, my opening pitch is purely here because it’s…well…brilliant. Uncle Buck sees John Candy in top form as the slovenly (a rare departure for him…okay maybe not) gambler whose middle class brother and wife find themselves having to travel to a loved one’s death bed and leave the kids behind. Unable to find a suitable babysitter they’ve no choice but to contact Buck out of the blue and ask for his help. Buck is only too happy to help, if only to escape having to do a day job for his girlfriend. He soon finds himself heaped with the responsibility of looking after children ranging from very young, to a stroppy teenager. As we discover young kids can be easily swayed with giant pancakes and tom-foolery but dealing with a teenage girl who resents her parents and wants to be treated like an adult, is an absolute nightmare. As a new parent it’s a period of life in your child that fills you with inevitable dread. The teen years. You know you will be hated. They’re becoming more and more grown up and thus growing that vindictive part of their personality that will see them through adult life, only they’re still too young to kick out, no matter how awful they are (or their boyfriends called “Bug” are).
Uncle Buck is a classic. It’s charming, it’s hilarious and it’s heartwarming and eventually Buck melts the steely heart of his teenage niece through the power of scaring the living shit out of her sleazy boyfriend with some light kidnapping and power tool threats. Good to know. Having had a girl myself I’m already considering ways of keeping boyfriends at bay. Power Tools, golf clubs and axes…check.
What of looking after babies? Well that brings us to Three Men and a Baby. This is one of those films an 80’s kid watched a few times when younger that has probably dated badly. It’s amiable enough thanks to the three leads, Ted Danson, Magnum P.I (Tom Selleck to the layperson) and Steve Guttenburg (gotta love a bit of Guttenburg) but the concept is ridiculous and it’s almost grotesquely saccharine. Still it does teach us that without a mother to look after a baby, it takes three men to manage the task. The hapless friends who all earn good money in the booming 80’s, yet still have to share an apartment, struggle (too much hilarity of course…okay, a little hilarity…well…mild amusement) with nappies, bodily functions and retrieving kidnapped children. But still, this film teaches us that no matter how selfish and immature you are, even when approaching 40 (like Danson in the film) a baby will make you grow up instantly (or in the space of 90 minutes). It will happen naturally. To be fair that’s true to an extent. When you find that someone else beside yourself is the number one priority by a clear distance for the first time it begins retraining your personality, mostly for the better.
Look Who’s Talking is another classic example of an 80’s film most of my generation watched. Of a certain age most movie-goers will have seen, or at least heard of the film in which a persistently bickering couple played by Kirstie Alley and John Travolta who, whilst the film doesn’t entirely state it, are basically getting by on sexual chemistry over personality match. Then a baby is thrown into the mix and then they’re sort of stuck with each other, trying to make it work when he clearly thinks she’s an up tight pain in the ass and she thinks he’s a dick brained man-child. They’re both right of course. It all comes good of course because it’s a film, where-as in the real world they’d end up on Jeremy Kyle (or Jerry Springer for my American friends) bemoaning each other to the detriment of the child, who in reality won’t have his interior thought voiced (hilariously…okay, somewhat amusingly) by Bruce Willis. Yes, Look Who’s Talking teaches us that two hideously mismatched people will become a dream couple through simply having unprotected sex whilst both in peak fertility. So don’t worry if you’re going out with someone unbearable. If the rutting is out of this world, stick with it, have a baby and then suddenly all those personality clashes will be a distant sex fogged memory.
A couple more films with valuable life-lessons to teach us, that you may not necessarily have seen are Mr Mom and Baby Boom. Mr Mom finds Michael Keaton in an early role and in fine form in an otherwise forgettable 80’s comedy. Again this keeps with the tried and tested 80’s notion (not that this notion has changed much to be fair) that men are giant children incapable of mature, rational and organised thought. Keaton plays a working man made redundant whilst Teri Garr is the stay at home mom. The pair make a bet on who will find work first and to set about much hilarity (well…you know) it is Garr who finds the work. Keaton is thus tasked with being a stay at home dad. In 1983 the concept of the stay at home dad was probably something bordering on original for this somewhat forgotten comedy. As expected the stay at home dad doesn’t deal with the daily routines and chores too well, as his genetic inability to multi-task hinders him. However to counter that, it appears the 80’s working woman was incapable of leading a working and parenting life in harmonious unity. Whilst dad was able to do his working week, come home and be the fun one for the kids, the mother, because clearly her inability to switch off from tasks in front of her that need finishing mean that the days and weeks become long and arduous and she neglects the children. Apparently in the 80’s being a working business woman meant that being a parent is an impossibility.
In Baby Boom, starring Diane Keaton (From Keaton to Keaton…Damn I’m good) Nancy Meyers (who wrote the film) sets about to prove this theory wrong only to give up in the final third and confirm it. Much like Mr Mom, Baby Boom will probably have gone under the radar of many. Again it’s a solidly performed film (as it has a Keaton…par for the course) and once again it’s very dated. It certainly doesn’t hold up as well as Uncle Buck for example. It’s never hilarious, it’s sort of just (yes, yes, you know) mildly amusing. We get the usual nappy humour as you’d expect as Keaton’s 60 hour a week business dynamo in a world where a penis is almost a pre-requisite, is inexplicably given her recently deceased cousins toddler in a will and of course the American social care system is quite satisfied that someone hideously unsuitable to be a parent can look after a child. This happens after point blankly telling her boss that he doesn’t have to worry about her ever having kids and that she’ll be able to work even more hours. So then we have much amusement as Diane Keaton struggles to juggle parenting with a full working life. Now of course to an extent it’s true but of course the working world has been made far more flexible in modern times to allow for women in a business background to still be able to have a family. Still in the 80’s, in this dated film it is an impossibility. However thankfully for Keaton she discovers corporate worklife is evil and that living on a farm with a handsome vetinarian is far better.
So there we have it. Kids can be bribed with treats. Threatening their teachers is okay. A mother can abandon her baby on a doorstep, fuck off for months and come back with barely an eye brow raised and depart with the baby no questions asked because she must surely now be an able parent. Criminally violent behaviour is okay, as long as you’re doing it to your daughters boyfriend. Mum at home, dad at work is best and the other way round is potentially catastrophic (and will also inevitably lead to affairs). The first nappy change is comically difficult (and every subsequent one until the point at which it is no longer amusing). You can leave your baby to anyone you like in your will and they will have no choice but to take it. Your baby can actually think in fully developed language and will make continuous sarcastic comments about you. If they’re a boy they sound like Bruce Willis. If they’re a girl they sound like Roseanne. Having babies fixes any relationship problem. Kids will regularly outsmart their parents. This, which I have found out after only a month, is most unequivocally true.
Any other great parenting movies from the 80’s with valuable lessons? Let us know in the comments below.