Paul Reiser's The Thing About My Folks
By Lujane Crotch
Hey, I know that just reading the title of this piece fills you up with joy. And I know I don't have to tell you much about this work of art --- without even opening the box you know this is going to be great. The box cover photo is Paul Reiser and Peter Falk, father and son, one sitting on an apple and the other sitting on an orange. Oooooh, they must have contrasting opinions on many issues! As with anything Paul Reiser does, you know that from the second you turn this on, you've stepped in a large pile of golden brown gold, with its rich, fragrant aroma about to slap you in the face.
The lead character, Ben (Reiser) starts the film with his childhood memories of Dad, the best one involving how much Dad loved using Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder after showering, putting it all over his body, and especially his undercarriage. This naturally brought a smile to my face, remembering the showers me and my sister used to take with our dad, him tickling us while he had us lick his balls and undercarriage clean. And then he always finished with his baby powder, which made his balls feel fresh all day. Oh, how I love those family memories, and I've of course passed this tradition on to my daughters.
As the film actually kicks in, then and family are at home. It's late, and he's on the phone asking about buying a house in the country, and things of course seem odd about the real estate agent he's talking to. “How big is this lake,” Ben asks. “You would like to interview us about the house?” the agent replies. All this is out of the ordinary, so, right away you feel like Reiser's dragging you back into one those masterpiece episodes of Mad About You, the sitcom he did in the 90s with Fran Drescher. I know, I know... you're saying “which episode,” since you can't distinguish between episodes as one being better than any other. They ALL possess exactly the same wit, I'm sure you'd agree.
The daughters are put to bed, with father Ben going in to kiss them all good night, and tuck them in. The youngest says, “Daddy, will you please stay and cuddle with me until I go to sleep. And he does, again bringing me back to childhood with my father often holding me tight in bed. Of course, Reiser wasn't naked with an erection like my daddy, but it's rated PG-13, a family film, so I can understand why they didn't show that stuff.
Then, the big brick drops. Dad (Peter Falk) arrives unannounced, with a note from Muriel, his wife, that she was leaving him. Ben is of course dumbfounded that his mom had left several days before, and Sam (Falk) is just now letting him know about it. So now the whole family is called, all of Ben's sisters, and things start to heat up around their homes.
The next day, all of Sam's kids decide that Ben should take a dad with him to the country to look at this “farmhouse” he was discussing earlier. This is the start of the wonderful road trip where Dad can “find himself.” Dad can't understand why they would want to live on a farm. “Chickens?” he says with hilarity. “You're going to grow stuff?” The laughs continue, leading to a scene at a gas station with Ben on the phone, and Dad of course doing silly things to embarrass himself while others watch. And finally they end up back in the car on their way to the farmhouse.
They start talking about Ben writing a book, and dad says he'd recently been to the bookstore looking for the work of an older writer. They didn't have any of the authors books, but Sam says “...you know what they had a lot of? John Grisham. I mean one book after another this guy.” “Oh yeah, he's fast,” Ben agrees. By this time I'm practically on the floor, feeling like I'm back in the middle of one of Reiser's stand up acts. Oh Jesus, I hope this never ends. Then all of a sudden, “pppfffffffrtt”, Dad lets out an enormous fart in the car, and the roars continue.
But dad, of course, went on and embarrassed them again while looking at the farmhouse. “Do all these septic tanks drain right into your lake here? I'll bet when it's hot that must stink to high heaven.” This leads to a big discussion of Dad's problems, and why the mom had left him. “There's always a reason not to do something with you. Mom wanted to travel, you didn't. You guys were going to live in the country, and you found reasons not to do that.” Ben shows his dad an old letter that Mom had written Dad just before Ben was born, saying she was going to leave him because she doesn't feel loved. “I was working my ass off to send you kids to the best schools, the summer camps, everything. And now I'm some kind of prick for wanting all this for our kids?” They end up buying a new car for Dad, and discussing what it is that kids think about their folks, and what they will remember from the time spent together. They go fishing, and continue to frolic through the countryside while discussing life, love...and more large farts. They go to a bar, play pool for money, end up in a fight, do some line dancing with two really nice country broads, a mom and daughter, then discuss life with them over more beer and shots. "Am I in Heaven?" I wonder.
Well, after they wake up hungover, Ben calls home again. This is when tragedy strikes. The Mom had went off to be by herself, and ended up blacking out occasionally. She went to the hospital, where they found an inoperable tumor. She has about 6 months to live, and the family is going crazy, meeting up at the hospital. Oh, the sadness. Mom and Pop, Grandma and Grandpa, talk in the hospital room, discuss what she had wanted her whole life, what she was feeling. She didn't want to leave. She just wanted to see if she could. And I cried.
Oh, this thick intellectual framework is so thought provoking, invigorating, and exciting I just want to make Paul Reiser my full-time life adviser. Well, I practically have, watching him in some form or another, be it his stand-up acts or Mad About You reruns at least twice a day. I don't want to go through any day without some help and advice from this man. And I know the rest of the world must feel the same way.
If you would like to reach Lujane, she can be reached at her blog: http://winkestleak.net/bloggy/