What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this is a crass comedy aimed at 13-year-olds who like jokes at others' expense. A character in a wheelchair is ridiculed, a cartoon character is a racial stereotype, and there's lots of innuendo about a character's large genitals. There's a generous helping of "f--k"s and "s--t"s, along with scenes in which a husband and wife negotiate when and how to be intimate beyond basic canoodling, two men talk about what makes a wife willing to have sex with her husband, co-workers gossip how a physically disabled man pleases a woman, and more. Plus, an elementary-school-age kid gives Tom the finger and swears, and the two main male characters do lots of fighting and trash talking.
What's the story?
In THE EX, Tom Reilly (Zach Braff), who can't seem to hold down a job, agrees to uproot his wife Sofia (Amanda Peet) (who stopped practicing law to become a stay-at-home mom) and their newborn from Manhattan to Ohio. There, Tom joins Sofia's father, Bob (Charles Grodin), in the ad business. Bob assigns Chip (Jason Bateman), a go-getting creative director stuck in a wheelchair, to be Tom's mentor. But it's animosity -- not admiration -- that develops between the two. Meanwhile, Tom and Sofia are locked in a post-birth haze, trying to find out who they are as parents, individually, and as a couple.
Is it any good?
Bateman is in fine form, exhibiting the genius blend of deadpan delivery and outright zaniness that he perfected in his critically acclaimed sitcom Arrested Development. Braff does good work, too: Wacky and wry, he's as good as he gets in Scrubs. And Peet, as she did in the dearly departed TV drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, grounds the entire enterprise by being sweetly unaffected yet funny. Grodin and Mia Farrow (as Sofia's mother, Amelia) are, unfortunately, cut from the same oddball-parents cloth already worn to better effect in Ben Stiller's Meet the Parents. Had The Ex's script allowed Grodin -- who's back in the big-screen game after more than a decade away -- to shine in his trademark kinetic-laconic style (see The Heartbreak Kid and Midnight Run), it would've served his talents better and made for a funnier movie. And Farrow simply acts dumb, which is a waste of an intelligent actress.
The scenes in which Tom and Sofia struggle with their new roles -- she, joining an infant massage class in which everyone seems crunchier than she is, and he, presenting charts he has absolutely no idea how to explain -- are believable and surprisingly sympathetic. Still, it's unoriginal. Their struggles read like the cinematic version of the famous parenting book What to Expect: The First Year. Though some of the movie's jokes and gags work -- a scene in which Sofia tells her hippie "frenemy" that her son is a "dips--t" is hilarious -- just as many simply don't: When employees at the ad agency pass around an imaginary "yes" ball, for instance, and another bit about a New Age-y co-worker who attempts to provide marriage counseling to Tom and Sofia. A side plot about a neighbor's boy is a nice distraction but calls out for more development, as do many of the inspired cameos from the likes of Amy Poehler, Donal Logue, Josh Charles, Amy Adams, and Paul Rudd. Still, it could have been worse. The bummer is knowing that it could have also been a whole lot better.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about how the media sets up expectations about parenting roles. Do movies and TV shows gloss over the difficulties of parenting, or are they portrayed with clichés? Also, how is Chip's physical handicap handled in the movie? Do people have preconceived notions about those who are impaired? What are they, and how can they be dispelled? How is Braff's character in this movie different from many of the more-vulnerable characters he's played in the past? What do you think made him branch out?