House Arrest

House Arrest. Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer 1996.
House Arrest. Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer 1996.

Before watching the movie:

I’m not sure how I feel about the premise of this movie. Parents get trapped in a locked room by their children so they won’t get divorced. Kids turning the tables on adults, family funtime hijinks, that sort of thing. I believe that divorce should be a last resort after attempts at saving what was once a happy, healthy relationship have failed, but forcing people to find a way to stay together really depends on how it’s handled.

There are a lot of good actors I’m looking forward to seeing, even if they’re presenting material I disagree with.

After watching the movie:

When Grover Beindorf’s parents announce on their anniversary that they’re going to have a “temporary separation” (which Grover’s friend Matt says will inevitably end in divorce), Grover does the only thing he can do: he boards them up in the basement until they reconcile. When he tells Matt what he’s done, the school bully T.J. overhears, invites himself over to see, and decides to turn it into a parent jail. He puts himself in command, bolsters the security, and abducts and imprisons his parents (unhealthy power dynamic) and Matt’s parents (father never keeps a wife more than two years) as well. With three families’ children living in the house with no parental oversight, the line between “enforcing compulsory couple’s therapy” and “no rules 24/7 party” becomes hazy, and with the nosy former police chief certain something’s going on across the street, Grover struggles to keep the focus on helping the adults and not getting caught.

I was not expecting a 90s movie to handle “fixing” divorce well, but this was not the terrible example I was worried it would be. None of the couples’ problems may be all that realistic, but they’re simplified enough that they’re unambiguously mistaken. The Beindorfs are separating without counseling because they think “nobody really needs counseling”, it’s just a scam. The Finleys’ problems seem largely rooted in nobody expecting them to last, and Mr. Krupp just doesn’t respect anybody including his meek wife. Past that, it’s simply a basic quick-fix shared traumatic experience breaking down barriers and getting these people to remember why they got married in the first place.Simplistic, but plausible. Additionally, the kids aren’t quite in the right either, so I don’t think the wrong lesson is learned.

The adult cast comes dangerously close to overshadowing the kids, but they manage to avoid it. Wallace Shawn, Christopher MacDonald, and Jennifer Tilly were the most interesting to watch, but the kids as a unit were more fun and Kyle Howard had to shoulder many of the emotional beats, and Matt and TJ, as the oldest kids in dysfunctional families, also kept things interesting. Ray Walston didn’t steal the show as much as I thought he would, being only exactly what he needed to be (which is probably a good description of a Ray Walston role really).

The music was particularly enjoyable, creating an interesting mix of nostalgic 70s and early 80s favorites for the parents’ “Our Song”s, and very current 90s music. While the 90s are starting to creep into my music of choice, my listening in that era tends toward pop and this was rock and possibly ballads, so the only song from the 90s I remotely recognized was a hard rock cover of the Sesame Street theme song, which was just… odd.

By no means a role model, this movie still exceeded my expectations in its use of sensitive and controversial interpersonal conflict.The families were simplistic but relatable and as long as audience members don’t reach the conclusion that locking people in basements is a valid way to reprogram minds, I’m happy to enjoy this as a bit of family fun about the value of family.

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