Sometimes, whilst watching certain motion pictures, you feel as if you are being inexplicably punished for something that you more than likely didn’t do. Take Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights for example. What did I ever do to you, Boogie Nights? I never wanted to be a character in a film as much as I did with that one — just so I could get up and run out of the room. And let’s not forget Joel Schumacher’s epic turd Batman & Robin either for that matter: ‘tis another poor example of a movie that managed to confirm my suspicions that the Motion Picture Association of America is comprised of nothing but drug-users and morons-in-general (how else can you explain the reasoning behind that one being passed for approval?). A more recent feeling of unwarranted disciplinary action taken against me is the Diane Keaton vehicle Smother, a film that definitely lived up to its title on my end.
The story: when a young married man (with a really nice kitchen) by the handle of Noah Cooper (Dax Shepard) is discharged from his job as a physical therapist on Hallowe’en, he finds a strange towhead of a guy sitting on his couch: the man is Myron (Mike White), the cousin of Noah’s wife Clare (Liv Tyler), who is in town for a “writing seminar.” Things go from bad to worse that evening when his god-awful-arrogant-drama-queen of a mother Marilyn (Diane Keaton) and her five dogs (all of whom are named Sammy Higgins) appear on the doorstep following another (and final) argument with Noah’s father. They are looking for a place to stay and Noah’s naïve-take-everything-personally wife lets her in. Hilarity ensues. Ha, ha, ha.
Sound familiar? That’s because you’ve probably a) seen it before or b) lived it before. It’s very true to life indeed in some parts, but, for a comedy, Smother really isn’t that good and it definitely isn’t funny. It tries its hardest to be funny (I only really laughed out loud once at the sight gag of Dax’s disabled grandmother bowling via a slide mounted to the front of her wheelchair), but, for the most part, the jokes fall flat and the delivery of said jokes are with either too much gusto or not enough oomph.
My main qualm with the film is the casting of alleged “comedian” Dax Shepard. Apparently, Zach Braff wasn’t available, so Dax got called in instead. Actually, Dax kind of looks like a low-rent hybrid of Zach Braff and Jimmy Fallon, but with the unappealing personality of Dane Cook programmed in — and his less-than-subtle approach to sarcasm is irritating at best and in every single scene to boot. My second pang regarding Smother would also be casting related: Mike White may do a fine job playing the geeky would-be screenwriter Myron (the other unwanted houseguest in the story) who is always clad in some retro-'80s t-shirt, but Diane Keaton may as well kiss her Oscar statue goodbye for her hammy portrayal of Marilyn Cooper in this jovially-gut-wrenching flick which she also co-produced (along with thirteen other people including Austin Powers director Jay Roach).
That said, neither of the three previously mentioned actors are all that bad (well, Dax Shepard perhaps, but that defeats the whole purpose of what I’m about to say), the true Uninspired Performance Award of the Week without a doubt goes hands down to the sultry Liv Tyler for her less-than-believable performance of Noah’s wife, Clare. Granted, the few scenes of Liv in her undergarments are perhaps the film’s only redeeming points, but her acting here is practically on-par with anything that Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan has ever submitted. Well done, Liv.
Moving on, the DVD release of Smother by Screen Media Films presents the movie in an anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen ratio that bears some strong colors and, in all honesty, is very good indeed. The English 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack suffices but doesn’t really make full use of the rear speakers. Spanish-language subtitles are included with this release.
For those of you who may find the film interesting enough to view for a second time, you’ll be pleased to know that director/co-writer Vince Di Meglio (whom, oddly enough, is not credited as the director of this picture on the back of the DVD cover) delivers an audio commentary for the feature. Di Meglio also shows up in front of the camera (as does most of the cast and crew) in a brief behind-the-scenes featurette (7:31). The only other extras on this disc are two trailers for Screen Media releases The Cake Eaters and Dark Matter, which play before the movie starts up.
The only really positive thing about Smother is how much all the film’s producers thought it was a great project and were only too happy to invest in it — which means they’ll take one of my inept scripts and worship it as a golden idol as well. Ka-ching.