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FIRSTBORN (director: Michael Apted; screenwriter: Ron Koslow; cinematographer: Ralf Bode; editors: Angelo Corrao/Arthur Schmidt; music: Michael Small; cast: Teri Garr (Wendy Livingston), Peter Weller (Sam), Christopher Collet (Jake Livingston), Corey Haim (Brian Livingston), Richard Brandon (Alan Livingston), Sarah Jessica Parker (Lisa), Robert Downey, Jr. (Lee), Richard E. Szlasa (Coach Gant); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Tony Thomas/Paul Junger Witt; Paramount; 1984)
“A heavy-handed suburban sitcom.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Michael Apted (“Coal Miner’s Daughter”) directs a heavy-handed suburban sitcom about a harried divorced mom and her two children. Ron Koslow’s screenplay never provides the film with a rich enough emotional base to keep things plausible as the family eventually goes into a meltdown. The melodrama is filled with hysterical oedipal happenings, enough sibling rivalry escapades to fill a year’s worth of sitcom TV and a dry academic-like study of a mother’s desperate loneliness.

Wendy Livingston (Teri Garr) is alone raising her 15-year-old high school son Jake (Christopher Collet) and his adolescent brother Brian (Corey Haim) after divorcing lawyer hubby Alan–someone she still loves. Hubby remarries and on the rebound Wendy meets security system salesman Sam, and has him move into her comfortable suburban home over the objections raised by her children. Sam turns out to be a small-time cocaine dealer with big plans to own a restaurant and get his own surveillance business. All he needs is capital. The children spot him immediately as a big-talking phony despite his trying to buy them off with gifts, and family life in the once happy household becomes a bummer. Sam is an abusive surrogate father and a nasty asshole, but Wendy digs him and ignores the pleas of her children to ditch this good for nothing. Things come to a head when the children are aghast mom has become a dope fiend, and the oldest son acts to remove Sam from the house.

All the family tensions build to a misplaced action-packed conclusion ala Death Wish, as there’s a fight over the cocaine stashed in the house. This leads to a car chase and a final duke-it-out between Jake and Sam. The film’s obvious point is that Jake is more responsible than any of the adults, and has been misunderstood by his mom as she treats him as a child when she’s actually the irresponsible one.

The film stops working when it leaps from a realistic sensitive family drama to an ill-conceived fight for control of the house between the boys and Sam. There seems to be no more focus on what this family drama is about, as it tries to dig itself out of its miserable story line with an undeserved happy ending that is inconceivably resolved by the sinister Sam getting his comeuppance at the hands of the gallant Jake.

Sarah Jessica Parker has a small part as Jake’s sweet girlfriend.

REVIEWED ON 11/25/2004 GRADE: C-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”