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USA 1994
Directed by
David O. Russell
99 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Spanking The Monkey

David O. Russell’s impressive first feature is a strong contribution to the teen drama that stretches back to Rebel Without A Cause.

Jeremy Davies in his first major role is no James Dean in looks but he well captures the awkward teenager in this coming-of-age story for the mid 90s.  M.I.T. student Ray (Jeremy Davies ) returns home to Connecticut for what is supposed to be a short visit with his family prior to leaving for Washington D.C. where he has a medical internship over the summer holidays.  His plans are waylaid however when his travelling salesman father (Benjamin Hendrickson) tells him that he has to stay  home and look after his mother (Alberta Watson) who is not only recovering from a broken leg but is suffering from depression.

Russell’s finely-observed and challenging script explores family dynamics in way that few films are willing to do, exposing the dysfunctionalities that lie behind the veneer of middle class suburbia with economical candour  - above all, as the title, a euphemism for male masturbation indicates, the urges of teenage sexuality.

Jeremy Davies an actor who was given a lot of major roles preumably off the back of the film but never was as effective again and gradually faded from the limeligth, captures perfectly the frustration and confusion of a young man caught between adolescence and adulthood  but all the performances are excellent with Russell’s script  neatly pegging out the confines of his world - the former high school friends with whom Ray no longer has anything in common, the controlling, hypocritical father, the too young high school student neighbour (Carla Gallo) on whom he makes over-eager advances and his insouciantly sexy mother with whom after too many vodkas and tonics he goes where no son should.

Spanking The Monkey is an impressive first feature, directorially assured, with strong performances based on a original, well-written script.




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