Spanking the Monkey - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Spanking the Monkey Reviews

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May 14, 2019
This is one of the finest debut features from a modern director that I have ever seen. David O. Russell would go on to make Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013) but here he makes a smaller film that displays his abilities at capturing natural and funny dialogue. I have always had a guilty pleasure for comedies that concern incest like The Hotel New Hampshire (1984) and Murmur of the Heart (1971) but this is probably the most low key film I have seen about the subject. The performances of the actors are all great and they are written as colorful but oddly realistic with various entertaining details dropped in. I found myself loving everything about it, including the score, while watching it and I would consider it to be an overlooked gem.

Ray Aibelli, Jeremy Davies, has to forego a prestigious summer medical internship in Washington D.C to take care of his bored housewife mother Susan, Alberta Watson, who has broken her leg. Susan has been neglected by her husband Tom, Benjamin Hendrickson, who spends his money on prostitutes and cannot afford to pay for Ray's second year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Incestuous attraction develops between mother and son as Ray's attempts to begin a sexual relationship with local teenager Toni Peck, Carla Gallo, fail. Ray comes of age despite being stuck in a very difficult situation and ultimately decides to simply run away.

The chemistry between Davies and Watson was wonderful as they are able to completely sell their taboo attraction and also appear as a normal mother and son. Russell gifts them with brilliant dialogue but when they discuss Ray's "boner boat" and throw cheese at the television their connection is weird but magnetic. In terms of their characters we get the usual admission that Tom didn't want a child, very much like The Graduate (1967), and we understand that Susan is considered attractive by both Ray's friends and Toni's father. The clichà (C)s are dealt with humorously and have an extra bite to them which makes their use feel fresh and exciting instead of overused. Even though it was clear that these two were not meant to be together I found myself for rooting for them as those around them treat them poorly.

The supporting cast of characters were also fantastically written and played with Gallo as Toni Peck and the unknown to me Judette Jones as the nosy Aunt Helen being particular highlights. Gallo was 19 when she played the role of an awkward teenager but she pulls it off so well as she removes her retainer during a kiss with him and aggressively pursues a disaffected young man. She is uncomfortable with her burgeoning sexuality but has the confidence of a young woman in confronting her boyfriend's mother. Jones is giving a Geraldine Chaplin in Nashville (1975) style performance when she is so excitingly annoying and frustrating with her inane twittering about inconsequential parts of her life. Her nagging of Susan and Ray and the fact that she drops in her issues as a driver caused me to titter and the fact that her presence brings them closer together helps.

Russell is good at showing the build up of sexual tension between mother and son. We see massages, showers and Ray catching his barely clothed mother in his arms. The sight of him rubbing his body raw as he attempts to push back against the thoughts of beginning a sexual relationship with his mother it is painful but also makes the moment at which he consummates his relationship with her more dramatic. Russell never focuses for two long on their actual sexual activity as their intercourse is implied but we do get scenes of him taking out his frustration on her.

I would urge you to watch this film because it is short, enjoyable and heralds the career of one of the better mainstream filmmakers of the 2010s. Watson, Davies, Jones and Gallo are all terrific in their roles and Russell's screenplay gives them great things to do. It's not gratuitous in how it deals with it's subject matter and it's certainly better than some of Russell's later attempts at dark comedies.
½ August 7, 2018
Wow. I almost can't believe most professional critics believe this movie is worth seeing. This movie is almost impossible to believe. I watched it multiple times back in the mid-1990s and the shocking idea that a teenage boy and his mom would engage in some form of sexual relationship sends chills down my spine (and not the good chills). Truly depraved.
April 17, 2018
Story about a boy who does something disturbing. Not a movie for everyone but I enjoyed it a lot.
May 4, 2017
The praise from critics is shocking. This movie is complete trash and crosses boundaries with no purpose. (First and only viewing - In my early twenties)
March 17, 2017
The lady was so hot. It's a realistic attempt at the subject. Definitely worth a watch.
½ May 21, 2015
One of the top directorial debuts of the 1990's.
October 10, 2014
A deep and intense subject, but handled well with some good dark humour to offset this.
October 4, 2014
wow....wow....wow....so so so strange....man I have just seen this movie 4 the 1st time n think that this is such a really strange movie 2 watch......its got a good cast of actors/actresses throughout this movie.....I think that Jeremy davies, alberta Watson, Benjamin Hendrickson (.R.I.P.), Carla gallo, matthew puckett, play good roles/parts throughout this movie.....I think that the director of this comedy/drama movie had done a great job of directing this movie because you never know what 2 expect throughout this movie.....its got a good soundtrack throughout this movie....man this is 1 strange movie 2 watch, but it is so fantastic......




Select tracks from Morphine's album Cure for Pain are used throughout the film, including "In Spite of Me" which plays over the end credits.





Spanking the Monkey was a box office success, grossing $1,359,736 on a $200,000 budget.

The film won the Audience Award at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival and the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay






The title is a slang phrase for masturbation and is used in the film by one of the teenage characters. It was filmed in Pawling, New York.




man this is 1 strange movie 2 watch, but it is such a fantastic movie 2 watch.....I think that this is such a really well written/acted/directed movie 2 watch, its got a great cast throughout this movie......Its got a good soundtrack throughout this movie, man this is 1 strange movie 2 watch but it Is such a great movie 2 watch with a good cast throughout this movie.......
August 9, 2014
Unlike with a lot of people, incestuous relationships don't crawl under my skin and disgust me. That part of the movie was actually the only thing about it I found watchable.

What I DIDN'T find tolerable was this abhorrently unstable protagonist and his self-centered personality. I got so tired of him and his whining during the second half of the movie that continuing to view it was a difficult endeavor. Seriously, Ray has problems, and I'm not even talking about his vibrant curiosity for having a relationship with his mother. Knowing drama queens in real life is bad enough. Watching them in a film doesn't help.

There were just a lot of things about the film I thought could have gone a lot better. The first half of the story was fine. As soon as Ray started acting like a complete prick is when I was no longer interested in it. I love drama, but this character was just unlikeable in every aspect.

Good to watch, if you can get over Ray's irritating whimpering.
May 4, 2014
Even from film one, David O. Russell signified himself as a man well crafted in the art of black comedies. Spanking the Monkey is about a hair lengths away from turning into a dark drama every second of the way, but Russell manages to keep the humor (albeit, dark dangerous humor) at an all time high and what we get is a terrific debut film that ranks up there with some of the Coen's early work. Led by a terrific cast, especially the talents of Jeremy Davies and Alberta Watson, and matched with a terrific script, O. Russell's Spanking the Monkey is not for all but should be seen by all nonetheless.
May 1, 2014
The directorial debut of David O. Russell, this ultra-black comedy was made in Pawling, New York during the summer of 1993 on a shoestring budget of $80,000, (funded from grants usually reserved for short films), and it has a plot you cannot believe Russell concocted out of his head, as it's SO WRONG. But it has heart and some good characters too. Against the odds, it's a very good film. It begins when medical student Raymond Aibelli (Jeremy Davies) is forced to return to his family home by his salesman father Tom (Benjamin Hendrickson) to look after his mother Susan (Alberta Watson), who has a history of depression and has recently broke her leg. Raymond isn't happy as he was due to do a medical internship in Washington. So he's stuck at home looking after his mother, who is briefly incapacitated and unable to move around. Losing the internship and eventually his girlfriend Toni (Carla Gallo), Raymond starts feeling emotionally confused and one evening, while giving his mother a massage, he starts getting feelings of an illegal nature. It's a good character piece, but you'll be left shocked and offended by this film, as it touches upon the touchy subject of incest, although you see the intentions, it doesn't go all the way, which would have been wrong. But, it got Russell's career off to a brilliant start, and it was off to Hollywood next.
½ March 2, 2014
A black comedy trance that will surpass after the initial watch.

02/02/2014
January 30, 2014
Gave it a re-watch off cable after having not seen it since the VHS days,and it was much more of a slow burn than I recalled, ending on something of an anti-climactic note, so I honestly don't know if I'd come back to it anytime soon, but it's got some interesting character stuff in there that's worth a look at least once.

Rental?
½ January 12, 2014
A messed up movie, but a messed up movie I strangely enjoyed.
December 21, 2013
Surprise to see such high rating here. I didn't find it funny like other people. The acting is bad, it feels like a tv movie, everyone seems strange in here. The story is actually not bad.
November 19, 2013
this aint a comedy, like i taught it would be and its mainly really about him getting incestuous with his mother who he's looking after while she nurses a broken leg, bit fucked up really...?
August 17, 2013
A sick twisted fuck of a movie made by a man who, at the time at least, was probably a sick twisted fuck as well. You wanna know what this is? Here's a pitch: Young Charles Manson does his Mom. There. Go see it. But be warned: this is billed as a 'comedy', and it is in the sense that I chuckled a couple of times. But the character interactions, Davies performance (and here, more than anything else I've seen him outside maybe Rescue Dawn) looks like he's about to explode or cry or both at any moment, and just how Russell takes a very direct approach to the psychological issues at hand make it essential viewing for those looking for subversive American cinema from the 1990's, or ever really. It would be in Amos Vogel's book if it had been made in the 60's or 70's you mark my words! That it was made for (relatively) so little and looks pretty polished is a further credit (this won the Audience Award at Sundance 94 - the year Clerks was there, to give perspective).
June 8, 2013
Spanking the Monkey redefines the term "Oedipus Complex", while being one of the nastiest, yet one of the most bitingly funny films of the 90s.
½ March 10, 2013
The early 90s was a hotbed for the rise of indie cinema, and David O. Russell's debut is one of the many examples of its creativity and adventurous nature. I suppose you could classify Spanking the Monkey as a black comedy, which won the audience award at Sundance in 1994. It has many humorous moments and a simple setup, but then it ventures into some seriously dramatic territory in its back half. And did I mention it centers around incest? Not an easy or politically correct sell, to be sure, but Russell manages to make it work, with great help from the always watchable Jeremy Davies in his first major acting role, who really makes you feel for this guy's predicament. Spanking the Monkey is a raw work in more ways than one, but it's capably and uniquely handled, showing the innate potential Russell and Davies would later go on to fulfill in bigger and better things.
½ February 10, 2013
I enjoyed this dark comedy effort. It has some genuinely uncomfortable moments and some strikingly original moments too
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