(director/writer: Albert Brooks; screenwriter: Monica Johnson; cinematographer: Lajos Koltai; editor: Harvey Rosenstock; music: Marc Shaiman; cast: Albert Brooks (John Henderson), Debbie Reynolds (Beatrice Henderson), Rob Morrow (Jeff Henderson), Isabel Glasser (Cheryl Henderson), Lisa Kudrow (Linda), Laura Weekes (Karen Henderson), Paul Collins (Lawyer), Peter White (Charles), John McGinley (Carl); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Scott Rudin/Herb Nanas; Paramount; 1996)

“For the most part its droll humor rubbed me the right way despite its pat facile conclusion and all the product placements.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mild serio-comedy by writer/director/star Albert Brooks (“The Muse”/”Lost in America”/”Modern Romance”), that for the most part its droll humor rubbed me the right way despite its pat facile conclusion and all the product placements. Monica Johnson is co-writer.

After his second divorce, the yuppie forty-somethingsci-fi novelist John Henderson (Albert Brooks) realizes all his relationships with women end badly, as his women never believe in him and in the end the couple can’t stand each other. John shuns therapy and decides do a self-analysis experiment, believing he has a mother problem that needs to be resolved if he is to get a wife that he can live happily with and also get over his recent writer’s block. Thereby John leaves his suburban Southern California home and stays with his prickly widowed mom, Beatrice (Debbie Reynolds, age 64 at the time), up north in Sausalito, in his old room decorated with a Jimi Hendrix poster and peace signs from the 1960s when he was a teenager. Immediately upon John’s arrival tensions between the two develop, as mom is not too keen on his long visit–even suggesting he stay in a hotel. Friction develops over her cheapness; freezing all her food, which makes it inedible when served; favoring his younger son, the hotshot sports agent Jeff (Rob Morrow), who is married with two kids and speaks on the phone with mom every day; that mom humiliates John by telling strangers about his divorce and private life; and that mom seems to harbor some resentment to John. That reason will be resolved in a flash epiphany-like discovery, as John learns mom before she married dad was an aspiring writer and gave it up to raise a family upon her husband’s insistence and therefore resents John the most for taking away her career opportunities.

There are a few belly laugh scenes, one of which has John on a first date with bimbo Linda (Lisa Kudrow) who proclaims Charlie Chaplin wrote A Tale Of Two Cities. The co-writers also change some lyrics to Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs. Robinson’ to fit the debased mother-son relationship. Most of the humor is low-key. The pic is delightful mainly because of Debbie Reynolds, in her first starring role in 27 years, stealing the pic with her eccentric no-nonsense understated comical performance.