*Originally written in 2003
In 1990 we were blessed with one of the greatest comedies of all time. Problem Child came along just before the more sophisticated Home Alone blew all competition out of the way. Problem Child is nevertheless a film filled with great gags, brilliant acting from everyone, and a witty dark side which few directors can effectively balance. Unfortunately most people see it as nothing more than juvenile and it has become a fairly despised movie. While critics hated it and it seems that it hasn’t found a subsequent audience, it still generated an inferior sequel and spin-off TV series. For me, it will always be an all-time favourite, and even though I first saw it when I was seven or so and can see why it is so hated, I still find it hilarious.
Junior is an orphan. Abandoned by his parents, he did the rounds at various homes, never staying at one place for too long because he didn’t fit in or rather because he was as one character says – ‘wicked’. Junior finds himself at a Convent school where he soon starts trouble. The Administrator, Peabody (Gilbert Gottfried) knows that the Nuns want to get rid of him, and when he hears that a husband and wife who can’t have kids are looking for a child to adopt, he cons them into taking Junior – everyone’s happy. However, the family soon realise that Junior is no angel and want to get rid of him, but adopted father Ben sees that he is just a lonely kid who keeps getting shoved around. When Junior’s hero – a murderer named the Bow Tie Killer – murders his way out of prison, he pays Junior a visit, kidnapping Junior and his adoptive mother and sending Ben on a rescue mission.
The film has too many funny moments to mention – the opening montage with Junior growing up, the scenes with the nuns, the camping trip, the baseball game, and even small things like – ‘Look a giraffe!’… ‘Look a fist!’ make this film a comedy which deserves so much more respect than it will ever get. The dark side, the violence, these are neatly balanced by the fact that Junior just wants to be loved, and the film can be seen as an effective satire on the whole adoption process where children can often become numbers or forgotten in a system. John Ritter is perfectly cast as the father, Jack Warden is brilliant as old fashioned Big Ben, Amy Yasbek is good as the annoying Flo, and Michael Oliver puts in a stunning performance, stealing every scene he is in. Unfortunately he seems to have disappeared from the spotlight and never did much beyond the sequel. For all round laughs they do not come much better, and every kid should see this. When you grow up though, don’t hate it just because it seems childish and amateurish, love it as it should be loved.
Let us know in the comments what you thought of Problem Child!