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SPANKING THE MONKEY (director/writer: David O. Russell; cinematographer: Michael Mayers; editor: Pamela Martin; music: David Carbonara; cast: Jeremy Davies (Raymond Aibelli), Carla Gallo (Toni Peck), Benjamin Hendrickson (Tom Aibelli), Matthew Puckett (Nicky), Alberta Watson (Susan Aibelli); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Dean Silvers; Fine Line Features; 1994)
“Plays as a bad middle-class suburban joke that hits the right note between satire and being a shocker.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title refers in American slang to the time honored tradition of male masturbation. David O. Russell’s impressive film debut is with this delightfully wicked dark comedy, a small-budget indie about introverted MIT pre-med freshman Raymond Aibelli (Jeremy Davies) and his disappointing summer vacation. Ray is looking forward to working as an intern for the surgeon general’s office in Washington D.C., a coveted appointment that he worked hard to earn in competition. But arriving home in Connecticut on his summer break, he’s told by his insensitive and controlling despotic self-help video salesman dad (Benjamin Hendrickson) that he can’t take the job because he’ll have to stay home to care for his 40-year-old invalid mom (Alberta Watson). She has a severely fractured leg and suffers from depression (attempted suicide), while dad goes cross-country on a sales assignment.

It’s all carried out in an insightful and witty manner as mom makes unreasonable demands on Ray’s time, the family dog disturbs him, his former friends no longer hold his interest and even mock him, a neighbor high school girl (Carla Gallo) comes on to him and becomes his summer romance even though they are incompatible and she sends mixed messages sexually, and the sensitive young lad seems to be going into a funk that he will not be able to resolve things at home and attend his internship at a later date. Trying to get mom to use the crutches and be less dependent on him, he soon learns mom is an emotional cripple who not only depends on his presence but makes erotic overtures. The mother-son relationship brushes up against the incest taboo, but is handled with taste.

The film plays as a bad middle-class suburban joke that hits the right note between satire and being a shocker. It may leave you uncomfortable, but is always watchable.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”