Parents is a film directed by Bob Balaban—his first feature after a long acting career. It’s a very twisted black comedy about child neglect, cannibalism and possibly paedophilia, all set against the background of suburban America. The son is played by Bryan Madorsky, and this was his final starring role. That’s strange, because it’s a very good child performance. The script is by Christopher Hawthorne. It was a spec script written when he was working for Showtime in the marketing department. Initially it was slated as a Todd Solondz film, who at the time was completely unknown. He had made a short film, and his first feature may have been made but not released at that time. Solondz, who later directed Happiness, met with the production team, which asked him to name his favourite directors. Solondz would only name Woody Allen, which made them decide he wasn’t the right guy for this project… Then he met Balaban on a plane and told him about the script he had been writing. It piqued Balaban’s interested, as he was thinking about moving into directing at that point, and before long he was attached to the project.
The parents are played by Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt. They were looking for “a Mary Beth Hurt type,” when on a whim they decided to offer it to her. She accepted. Quaid is absolutely terrifying, and given the issues he’s had in recent years, seeing him play an unhinged person seems more and more fitting. Hurt is creepy as the perfect 50s-style housewife who’s equally twisted in her own way.
When Parents came out, it was a critical and box office disaster. Nobody saw it then, but due to home video, where other films about the underbelly of America like Heathers, They Live and Society did very well, it found a new audience. It bears some resemblance to the later film, Meet the Applegates, although Parents is the better movie. It’s all over the place, going in all these weird directions. It has very good production design, which makes the setting believable. There are some lower budget films of this type that are set in 50s but this is pretty much the only one with a quality budget.
It’s funny at times, but at 81 minutes it’s ridiculously short. It could have used a bit more space to build a few of the core ideas in more. It’s a good satire of Reagan’s ideal era, and what’s beneath all the Tupperware.
It was near-impossible to get for years, but thanks initially to Lionsgate in the US, which released the new Blu-Ray, now you can see it. It’s now available with the correct aspect ratio, which had been a problem on some previous copies. It is loaded with special features as well, including an audio commentary with the director and producer Bonnie Palef, an audio interview with score composer Johnathan Elias (and the isolated score), an interview with Jonathan Hawthorne about his script, and more interviews with Mary Beth Hurt, director of photography Robin Vidgeon, decorative consultant Yolanda Cuomo. A stills gallery, theatrical trailer and radio spots round out the package.