Film Review: Mad Women

A family of self-indulgent neurotics drive each other and everyone around them crazy in this naval-gazing examination of privileged-people problems.
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As dysfunctional families go, the Smith family is a doozy. Sadly, that doesn't make them interesting. Daughter Nevada (Kelsey Lynn Stokes) is a directionless, post-graduate middleton (her older sister, a pediatrician, is in Ukraine with Doctors Without Borders, the younger one died of cancer as a toddler) who thinks she's paralyzed by the troubles of the world but to all appearances really doesn't have much experience of them. True, her firebrand of a mother, Harper (Christina Starbuck), is a handful, a woman so profoundly committed to women's issues that she conspired (unsuccessfully) to murder a "domestic terrorist"—a man who planned to kill a doctor who worked with Planned Parenthood and performed abortions—with a gun she bought from his own gun store, went to jail and is now running for mayor of their tony town, Iris Glen... which she'd like to see secede from the United States. Oh, and she has breast cancer and needs a double mastectomy.

Meanwhile, Nevada's genial, supportive father, Richard (Reed Birney)—a pediatric dentist—is going to jail for having sex with an underage girl at a John Fogerty/Jackson Browne Jones Beach concert where he and Harper dropped acid together for the first time in 30 years, something he apparently regrets less than his part in a long-ago teen prank that cost a friend his leg.

Nevada loves and hates them both in equal degree—like your average 13-year-old, except that she's old enough that she really ought to know better—and is given to long, rambling denunciations of their many faults, real and imagined, in between sulking in her room, playing tennis, being nasty to Otto (Eli Percy), the fairly normal-seeming guy who'd like to be her boyfriend and works in marketing, his recent coup being the "barefoot and pregnant" campaign for shoes designed to accommodate the expanding feet of pregnant women, and letting the oddball who's been stalking her for four years watch the infant she's supposed to be babysitting. Hey, she has to make a living, right? And she does do the diaper-changing.

Mad Women, purportedly a comedy-drama, is occasionally weirdly funny, as when Richard barely pauses his version of the LSD-fueled liaison with the aforementioned 16-year-old to advise Nevada, "Don't do drugs," or Nevada blows off the snarky/sincere Otto with the declaration, "Schadenfreude, my ass!" But the film all too often feels as smug and self-satisfied as Nevada, Richard, Harper and Otto, all of whom feel less like characters than wacky improv exercises. Did I mention that Nevada has sex with her mother? Some might call this late mention of mother-daughter incest "burying the lead," but the fact is that it's no more or less consequential than anything else that happens in this bizarre world of blinkered privilege. It's tempting to call Mad Women nutty, but nuttiness suggests a certain lightness of touch that the film is sadly lacking...unless it's meant to be deep drama, in which case it should probably lighten up on the quips.

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