You know something's up when a little film by a first-time director shows up with producer credits that include Barry Levinson and Lawrence Kasdan, two pretty heavy hitters in today's filmmaking league, which is the case with Home Fries, written by the unknown Vince Gilligan and directed by Dean Parisot, and which is the reason I took myself to the mall to see it at the local megaplex.
And it didn't let me down, either. It's the kind of film that defines the word quirky, which is not necessarily damning with faint praise. The concept is so over the top that it takes a very witty script, along with comic direction and deadpan acting to make it even palatable. Let me see if I can make sense of it for you. In a small southern town, two grown sons of a monstrous mother (right out of a John Waters film), both helicopter pilots in the National Guard, scare their stepfather to death by firing blanks at him from their helicopter, on orders from their mother, because he was having an affair with an unknown woman. Meanwhile Drew Barrymore, far and away the most delicious person in films today, is the one with whom he had the affair, and is now eight months pregnant by that selfsame stepfather, though the two boys don't know that.
Through a plot mechanism too contrived to discuss here, the good son, that is, the lesser of the two evils (played charmingly by Luke Wilson), meets and falls in love with Barrymore. The rest of the film is concerned with keeping Barrymore from being killed by monstrous mother (Catherine O'Hara), operating through her other son.
Does that sound funny? If you're still with me, the fact is that Home Fries is actually charming for the most part, and sometimes even laugh-out-loud funny, because every scene that would normally appear in, say, a teen horror film is shot and played with a deadpan wit that turns it completely around. Workers on a break at the local cigarette factory are all standing around coughing. Barrymore's father tries to hold up the Burger-Matic where she works, but is foiled by Wilson, who has taken a job there for reasons we needn't go into now, and is wearing the Burger-Matic space-man costume that makes him look like the Michelin Man. In other words, this film gives us everything we don't expect, whenever we expect it. You can see why Kasdan and Levinson put their names on it.
But I don't want to overpraise it either. It could have used a couple more script rewrites, to help focus it better, and the direction is a little wobbly at times. But the charm of the characters, and the film's willingness to throw away what normally would have been leaned into, makes it a lovely pleasure.