Stuart Saves His Family Reviews
Not only does Saturday Night Live produce one of the least funny shows on television, it has now branched into producing some of the least funny motion pictures to be found at the cinema. Wayne?s World and Coneheads were barely tolerable, and leave us to forget Wayne?s World II, Billy Madison, Tommy Boy, and It?s Pat - please. Stuart Saves His Family is the latest SNL-sketch-turned-film to hit theaters, and I have to say it absolutely appalled me. Given the SNL movie track record, I was predisposed to hate this movie, and found that I couldn?t. It was charming from beginning to end with a few laughs that tickled my funny bone and some nice poignancy that touched my heart. Should I be ashamed to admit this?
The film?s protagonist, Stuart Smalley, is the lisping bleach-blond sensitive new-age guy who hosts ?Daily Affirmation? on SNL to inspire the insecure and undernurtured to grow and love themselves better. The joke of these sketches is that our angst-filled host is actually so crippled by his own insecurities that he barely is able to get himself through the day, let alone inspire others. Written and performed by talented longtime SNL alum Al Franken, Smalley is ?a caring nurturer, a member of several twelve step programs, but not a licensed therapist.? The film is written completely by the brilliant comic mind of Franken, based on his 1992 book I?m Good Enough, I?m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me! in which Stuart attempts to provide an inspirational lesson for each day, and ends up recounting several trips home to deal with his dysfunctional family when his aunt dies.
Director Harold Ramis (of SCTV fame) handles the material well by acknowledging that it is not an out-and-out comedy. As written, it could have slipped into stupid family melodrama, or nasty laugh-fest at the expense of people in recovery. How many comedies have you seen lately in which a family confronts their father and asks him to admit he?s an alcoholic? The comedy always has a dramatic edge, and vice versa with such lines as, ?My father grew up during the Great Depression - his mother?s.? Also, the music in Stuart Saves His Family is kept very traditional and classically-based, with lots of 1950?s samba/cha-cha music added for color and fun. With great potential to live a long and happy existence on video and TV, the film is smart enough to avoid a dated soundtrack that may hinder its longevity.
The film is kept on track by Franken?s rock-solid performance as Stuart. Franken never breaks character for even a single frame, and it is fun to see the talking head we once enjoyed on SNL as a walking entity, finding himself in interesting comic situations. Faced with overcoming unpleasant childhood memories and his own ?Critical Inner Voice,? we are always on Stuart?s side as he tries to remain true to his own sense of respect and honesty. The film never slips into the easy pattern of making us feel sorry for him. Franken is backed up by a very capable supporting cast, and fellow SNL veteran Julia Sweeney is hilarious in her cameo as an apologetic secretary.
As for the long-standing question of Stuart?s sexuality, the film sheds no light on it whatsoever - Stuart is kept so asexual, they could have named the film It?s Pat II. (For the particularly curious, even the book doesn?t tell, though it comes dangerously close.) Personally, I say he is gay because no amount of twelve step programs could make a straight guy that sensitive. The lisp can?t be ignored (though I?d like to), and I?m sorry - any man with highlighted hair and Ethel Merman playing in his Walkman is more than suspect in my book. (And his Dad does say something about ?having Liberace for a son.?) The only other gay reference to be found in the film is Stuart?s ex-boss, Roz, who dresses like a major lesbian, but unfortunately is a very nasty person. Here?s to hoping most audiences will mistake her for being straight.
The other important factor of the film is how well it portrays twelve-step programs and the people who follow them. Again, the film achieves a fair balance by not getting bogged down by too many foreign ?program? terms, but does not ignore or oversimplify their importance. Smalley is actually a satirical character, but this lovable creature?s plight, like recovery, is based in self-honesty and trying to become a better person; how can one belittle that? To make fun at the expense of Stuart or twelve-step programs would be downright nasty and unfunny. Best of all, while we?re laughing at the individual, we actually walk away with a little of bit of the wisdom from the programs ourselves. (I actually think the film could have used more of his fun phrases during the voice-overs, like, ?Denial ain?t just a river in Egypt.?)
God bless the Stuart Smalleys in the world. Everybody knows one. A man with more feelings than an entire army, more compassion than the PTA, and more neurotic insecurities than Bellevue. He frequently begins his Affirmations with, ?Now yesterday?s show was not my best show, but that?s...OK.? Well, Stuart, you?re movie is not the best movie ever made. But even though at times it moves a little too slowly, it?s got heart, laughs, and a message to it - and it?s well put together. Considering your dysfunctional family of other SNL-inspired movies, you haven?t done so bad for yourself. In my book, that?s more than...OK.
don't be scared away by the SNL logo. It's a really nice film.