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Mama's Boy

Warner Bros. // PG-13 // June 3, 2008
List Price: $27.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted July 1, 2008 | E-mail the Author
"Mama's Boy" is a sort of "Man of the House" by way of "Napoleon Dynamite," and if you think such a combo meal sounds horrible, you'd be right. While many movies have succeeded at handling obnoxious characters plowing their way through unlikable situations, this is not one of them. The film is as grating as the people who inhabit it, as they're forced to muddle through one shoddy sitcom set-up after another.

Jon Heder, once again typecast as the grating nerd, stars as Jeffrey Mannus, a 29-year-old still living at home with mom (Diane Keaton). Jeffrey's still hung up over the death of his father years earlier, and he's clutched tightly to mama ever since. But Jeffrey's real problem is that he's a total jerk - to his mom, to his boss, to his few friends, to anyone he meets. He's not just antisocial; he's a jackass.

Problem is, there's nothing in Jeffrey's jackassery that's funny. He's rude and insensitive and selfish and snobbish, but never in a way that could be read as the slightest bit amusing. With no underlying humor to get us laughing at (or with) Jeffrey's antics, the guy grows starts off tiresome and goes downhill from there, and by the time we're supposed to be rooting for him, we just don't think he deserves it.

The plot kicks into gear when the mother meets motivational speaker Mert Rosenbloom (Jeffrey Daniels), and they fall madly in love. There's supposed to be plenty of hilarious jabs at Mert's oblivious unhipness - he scats (badly) in a jazz band that plays in local strip malls, he sports a terrible white-guy haircut, he rattles off inane Dr. Phil-esque self-help slogans - but try as he might, Daniels can't wring any chuckles out of the sloppy material. The screenplay, by Hank Nelken ("Saving Silverman," "Are We Done Yet?"), is too content on easy jokes and one-dimensional ideas.

The overprotective Jeffrey freaks out when Mert moves in, and the two begin a lengthy prank war whose lameness and laziness can best be explained by the fact that most of the tricks are presented in montage form. Yes, "Mama's Boy" is loaded with comedy montages, the bad movie's storytelling crutch; if Melkin could have figured out a way to show in quick cuts Jeffrey trying on a bunch of kooky clothes while some bouncy 80s pop tune blares in the background, it'd be in here, too.

Everyone here is a sitcom cut-out, from mom and Mert's dopey middle-aged whiteness to Jeffrey's brooding nerdiness to Eli Wallach's turn as Seymour, the wise old family friend who shows up to supply Jeffrey with the right advice at the right time. These are people who aren't even one-dimensional. They're half-dimensional.

The only one who escapes this trap is Anna Ferris, who shows up as Nora, the coffeehouse cashier who catches Jeffrey's eye; Ferris' performance is so honest and pure that she owns the entire film, delivering a fresh, charming take on an otherwise undercooked character. Where even such notables as Keaton and Daniels get swallowed whole by the material, Ferris rises above it, showing everyone how to make even the shallowest character interesting. Sadly, Nora gets dragged into an exasperating cliché of break-up-then-make-up romcom third act nonsense that finds Jeffrey racing to spill his heart to her before she leaves to start a new life, and all of the actress' talents go to waste. (The finale's parody of the boombox scene in "Say Anything" is meant to be clever, but it only serves to remind us what intelligent romantic comedy looks like.)

Of course, it's never explained why a cute gal like Nora would ever fall for a nitwit like Jeffrey. Nelkin's script is too lazy to come up with any reasonable excuse (or even an unreasonable one, which at this point in the film would be just as welcome), and rookie director Tim Hamilton does so little with the material he's given that he never bothers to question such a key story failure. Hamilton is more content in cramming in as much retro-alt rock as possible (the soundtrack includes the Smiths, the Jams, and Billy Bragg), in hopes of using the slackers-united-by-music theme to recapture the mood of something like "Garden State." But the screenplay never earns its musical connections, nor does it properly handle the mood swing from dark comedy to bittersweet dramedy.


Video & Audio

Hamilton's sitcom-style direction shows through in the film's passable-yet-unimpressive anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer. Colors are decent but a bit flat, although a few desert scenes look very solid. Grain is minimal. For the few who still want such things, a 1.33:1 pan-and-scan version is offered on the other side of this flipper disc.

The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack mix is fairly uncomplicated, keeping almost all of the action up front. The frequent music cues come through nicely without overpowering the dialogue. Optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles are offered.


Hamilton pokes his way though a mostly talky commentary track, with only a few notable gaps in the chat. The talk focuses mostly on making-of factoids about color correction, soundtrack choices, and on-set goofiness.

Four deleted scenes (6:14 total) feature: a mildly amiable Jeffrey-Mert scene that shows the two accepting each other; extended but unnecessary finale bits between Jeffrey and Nora; and a woefully unfunny piece featuring Jeffrey and Seymour. Presented in 1.85:1 flat letterbox.

Final Thoughts

With plot points that were stale when they were used on "The Brady Bunch" and characters so unlikable you couldn't care less about their eventual happiness, "Mama's Boy" is a grating comedy in desperate need of a fresh perspective that never arrives. Skip It.
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