13 February 2005 | BrandtSponseller
Not just a comedy
Sandy Archer (Farrah Fawcett) is a single mom. She and her son, Ben (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) have been on their own for years, but now she's met an attorney, Jack Sturgess (Chevy Chase), and fallen in love. When Jack moves in to Archer's loft, he quickly learns that it's going to be rough going with Ben. To make matters more complicated, Jack routinely helps put away criminals with dangerous connections. Can Jack save his relationship with Sandy, save his job, save his life and become a welcomed stepfather to Ben all at the save time?
I feel a bit sorry for Chevy Chase. Regardless of what he's like personally, I think he's genuinely talented, and not just for comedy. But he's acquired such a reputation over the years for being in sub par stinkers (mostly unjustly deserved, in my opinion) that I think it's a major hurdle for audiences to give his films a fair chance. That's a shame, because this is a very good film, with a good performance from Chase and the rest of the cast.
It's important while watching to not expect Man of the House to be an over-the-top comedy. It's as much a drama as anything else, and has adventure/thriller aspects as well. All of the genres are entered into from more of a child's or adolescent's perspective, which is appropriate for the material and venue.
From that perspective, scenes about the Indian Guides (a plot point that may have swayed my view of the film even more, as it brought back memories of my time in the Indian Guides with my dad back in the early 1970s) are just as weighty (both seriously dramatic and funny) as chase scenes with an impending threat of death. Other seemingly minor elements are also given more weight than they would have from an adult standpoint, and logic, plot progression and even physics are coming from a kid's world, not an adult's. That's not an easy thing for a 40-something year old director to achieve with just the right tone, but James Orr makes it look effortless.
The scriptwriters weave the various threads of the film together very nicely, as Jack uses connections from his work to make the Indian Guides even more fun and educational, while at the same time, saving his relationship with an important client. In fact, the funniest material in the film comes from fish out of water themes. Various characters are regularly approaching activities they would normally avoid, with inappropriate attitudes, clothing, and so on. The subtext of the film, stemming from the fish out of water material, concerns furthering self through understanding and furthering others--opening up to new perspectives, trying different things, cooperating with others, and so on. Initial resistance makes things difficult, but the attempt to understand and further others brings happiness.
The entire principle cast is great, but Man of the House also benefits from a number of excellent character actors, including George Wendt, Art LaFleur and Richard Portnow. Like most films, you'll enjoy Man of the House more, and get much more out of it, if you leave your expectations/preconceptions parked at the door.