Nia Vardalos doesn’t appear in enough movies. The Oscar-nominated screenwriter and star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and gay fave Connie and Carla is consistently one of the best actresses around whether in comedies or dramas. She has worked more frequently on television over the past decade, which is good for her but not for those of us averse to Law & Order: SVU.
Well, Vardalos’ fans can rejoice this weekend as she returns to the big screen in Helicopter Mom (it is also available starting today on VOD). In this very funny and somewhat groundbreaking comedy, Vardalos plays Maggie, the suffocating single mother of an NYU-bound son, Lloyd (talented former child actor Jason Dolley). She begins to believe that Lloyd is gay, despite his assertion that his sexual orientation is thus far “undeclared” and his new attraction to a pretty female classmate. In a schizophrenic bid to keep him closer to home while trying to win him a scholarship designated for an LGBT student, Maggie outs Lloyd as gay to his school as well as online. The film’s breezy 80 minutes take various twists and turns from there.
Screenwriter Duke Tran defiantly refuses to force Lloyd to “pick a team” in terms of his sexuality even as the film comes to a close. This is refreshing and likely contrary to most viewers’ expectations. Vardalos and the mostly no-name supporting cast (with the exception of late 1980’s-90’s pop singer Lisa Loeb) are uniformly excellent. Helicopter Mom is a little under the radar but I encourage everyone to seek it out.
Also opening this weekend at the Arena Theatre in Los Angeles is The Harvest, a modern-day gothic melodrama that emerges as little more than schlock despite the participation of Academy Award nominees Samantha Morton, Michael Shannon and Peter Fonda. It is also available on VOD. Mary Ann, a somewhat nosy girl, moves in with her grandparents (Fonda plays grandpa) in the wake of her father’s/their son’s death. While investigating their neighbors, she comes across Andy, a bed-bound boy reported to be terminally ill. His over-protective and controlling mother (Morton) is a respected surgeon at the local hospital but she doesn’t take kindly to strangers in her home. Andy’s father (Shannon), meanwhile, is a househusband who is also having an affair with a townswoman.
Mary Ann and Andy become friends and she sneaks into his room whenever his parents are away. In the process, though, she discovers another seriously-ill boy who is being kept in the basement. Andy isn’t even aware of this. Dark secrets begin to be revealed and Mary Ann has to serve as Andy’s protector while mama Morton (whose performance is easily the best thing in this movie) becomes increasingly unhinged.
Under John McNaughton’s direction, the hard-to-swallow scenario becomes somewhat affecting but it is mostly too little, too late. Like Andy, you may prefer to watch corn grow.
Helicopter Mom: B+
The Harvest: C
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.