Junior is a child and also is a problem. As a result he keeps getting returned to the orphanage. That is until Ben and Flo Healy show up looking to enter the exclusive parental club. While Junior wreaks havoc across the land, driving everyone around him crazy, Ben keep on killing him with love and kindness. Can Ben help Junior feel loved and change his ways before it’s too late? Find out in… Problem Child.
How?! Junior spent his childhood shuttled from home to home until ending up in an orphanage where his troublesome ways continued. The nuns have been driven insane and just when it seems like Junior will be all alone forever, in walks Ben Healy and his wife Flo. They are a couple desperate for a child, Ben so he can be the perfect all-American dad, Flo so that they can start getting invited to the exclusive parties, dinners, and trips that other families partake in. Junior seems like a quick and easy fix to all of their problems, right? Wrong. Junior continues his terrible ways as he ruins camping trips, birthday parties, burns down his room, injures his grandpa, etc. etc. etc. It all comes to a head when Junior injures a multitude of children during a baseball game and our boy Ben realizes that maybe, just maybe, Junior is bad news. When they confront the manager of the orphanage they are appalled to find that Junior has been returned over and over from other families. Unlike Flo, though, Ben is more appalled at himself. How could he, all-American dad, be unable to give the love necessary to help Junior? But when he goes out to tell Junior that they won’t be taking him back, Junior doesn’t believe them and drives away in the family car, destroying his grandpa’s business in the process. Suffering a mental breakdown, Ben doesn’t realize that things have gone from bad to far far worse when a serial killer that Junior has been corresponding with shows up at the front door. Thinking he’s Junior’s uncle, Flo woos him as a way to try to take Junior (or maybe just her) away with him. Waking up to find Junior and Flo gone and a ransom note scrawled on the wall Ben snaps out of it just in time to race to the circus (for real) and attempt to pay the ransom and get Junior back. The serial killer attempts to escape, but not so fast! Ben and Junior super team chase down the serial killer and stop him just in time. Now best buds, the father and son super team head off into the sunset together. THE END.
Why?! Probably the sweetest thing about the film is Ben Healy and just how desperately he wants to be the bestest dad in the world ever. The implication is that his own father is cold and distant (despite selling sporting equipment geared to the father-son experience) and Ben is determined that his own son will never lack for love. This unerring love for his son ultimately wins out and saves Junior. Probably we could drill pretty deep into the root of Junior’s behavioral issues. Despite the implication at the beginning of the film that he is evil from the get go, we get the sense that a lot of his behavior is more about the feeling that he is unlovable.
Who?! Dennis Dugan has a long history of BMT films. Not surprising as he’s one of Adam Sandler’s favorites. This was his feature directing debut and as a result the first of many cameos he made in films he’s directed. I think we’ve done about eight of his films and I believe he made cameos in all of them. Impressive.
What?! Smiley Pies obviously has a very, very prominent product placement (in my memories at least). Patrick points out Pepsi as the actual most prominent product placement, but for me the product that stands the test of time is Penn tennis balls as there is a scene where a car crashes into a giant display case of tennis balls and it’s burned there forever… actually every moment of this film is indelibly burned into my memory.
Where?! Very clearly takes place in Illinois in a town called Cold River, which is obviously made up. Impressive number of signs and posters for the location given that it’s not real. Not in the least bit relevant to the plot, but it is prominent. B+.
When?! Patrick pointed out to me that this could be one of the few Fake Holiday Film Alerts we’ll come across. The baseball scene occurs during Founder’s Day in Cold River, which being a fake place must mean it’s a fake holiday. Which is bizarre in a great way. Really there are a large number of dates thrown around in the film via newspaper, but the most solid seems to be from the poster advertising the Circus which would place the film at the end of June or beginning of July, which tracks with the camping trip, baseball, etc. B+
Problem Child is everything I remember it is. It is just nonstop one liners and gags by a small child. It makes me wonder if I maybe underrate Dennis Dugan as a director given how much I loathe some of his films (looking at you Grown Ups(es)). The fact is that he took a kid that basically never acted before and spun some really entertaining gold. He obviously was helped by a very game John Ritter who is actually amazing in this film. He’s just so goddamn likeable that you basically ignore a pretty problematic concept (but weren’t they all back in the day). I have to acknowledge that the film’s basic plot is dark in a pretty gross way. The opening scene is shocking as we see Junior shuttled from home to home before being unceremoniously dropped at an orphanage. And throughout the film there is a stigmatization of adoption that is unacceptable by today’s standards. But all this doesn’t change that it basically lived up to my memories. It is quite entertaining and the sheer number of memorable quotes is impressive. I think the first Problem Child is actually… not that bad. Patrick?
‘Ello everyone! Smiley Pies!? I haven’t had one of these in FIF-teen years! Let’s go!
P’s View on the Preview – I think I could have written the preview from memory, I’ve seen the film so many times. I looked up the kid actor who played Junior and really not very involved in acting after the films themselves. He is a great actor though given the part, but I’ll get to that later. What were my expectations? A blast from the past. I’m not joking when I say I’ve seen the film at least a dozen times. Which is kind of weird, as this simultaneously feels like a kids’ film which has become completely forgotten at this point.
The Good – The actor who plays Junior is really good considering the part was written for Macauley Culkin. He does a decent facsimile of the wiser-than-his-years mischief for a not-very-well-known child actor. The acting top-to-bottom is actually really good. And the surreal nature of the whole film is also just … it makes it really unique. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but as mean-spirited and weird as the film can get, there is an undeniably interesting point-of-view to it all. A comedic Bad Seed, as the screenwriters say, which I would say they nailed. Best Bit: Junior and John Ritter.
The Bad – Now, I say a comedic Bad Seed is interesting, but that doesn’t necessarily make it good. It is a very weird film, and almost definitely not a kids’ film … and yet it operated under the guise of a kids’ film. Which makes it unsurprising that critics thought it was abhorrent and that everyone involved thought it would bomb. The film isn’t really funny in any capacity, and Junior’s behavior at times is, indeed, abhorrent and unpleasant to watch. Fatal Flaw: Pushes things too far.
The BMT – On one hand I would say that they could have easily edited and reigned by Junior’s behavior and created a more tolerable mainstream hit I think. But then, Problem Child wouldn’t be the bizarre boundaries-pushing masterpiece that it is. I would argue though that this first one is actually really good, as long as you buy into the surreal weirdness of the cartoon world the screenwriters create. Did it meet my expectations? Yes, it is always odd to watch a film I watched constantly as a kid in BMT. I was pleasantly surprised with this one and I very much enjoyed watching it again.
Roast-radamus – A solid Product Placement (What?) for Pepsi throughout the film, not least of which prominently displayed during the baseball game (which, despite taking place on Founder’s Day, is not a secret holiday, more like a fake holiday). A really really good Setting as a Character (Where?) for Cold Water, Illinois. This film is really really Illinois which is excellent, but then also there is a giant statue of the founder Carl Coldwater outside of the adoption agency which is awesome. This is somehow closest to Good, don’t argue it just it, sue me I like the film.
Sequel, Prequel, Remake – Seeing as there are already multiple sequels and a television cartoon there is only one way to go, backwards! The Prequel goes full period piece, it is the late 50s, and Big and Little Ben are amoral travelling salesmen who will do whatever to earn a buck. The story centers around the arrival of the Healy’s in Cold Water. Big Ben places Little Ben in the local orphanage and gets him adopted out to a rich childless family where he begins to terrorize the neighborhood. Meanwhile, Big Ben reenters town pretending to be a local returning from war to find his young wife dead and only son adopted. The plan is for Little Ben to terrorize the couple into un-adopting him, and then Big Ben would exploit the shame and humiliation to blackmail them. In the end Little Ben realizes that they (gasp!) love him, and no matter what he does they will always love him! He runs away to the local circus where a friendly clown tells him that all families are different and he shouldn’t hate his father for their life of crime, that the best he can do is grow up, have a son, and love him as much as he can. Little Ben returns to town where Big Ben promptly turns him over to the rich couple for the reward money they’ve offered for his safe return. They are touched by the young family, unadopt Little Ben, and let Big Ben keep the money. He uses it to start his sports store and they settle down to a normal life. The End. Cold Water Grifters: A Problem Child Story.
You Just Got Schooled – Now what are the chances Problem Child had some weird cartoon series … 100% it turns out! I watched the first episode of Problem Child, the early 90s cartoon series. The episode is called Toys Will Be Toys. This cartoon is, first of all, terrible. But even besides that it has nothing to do with the movie it claims to be an adaptation of. Junior doesn’t seem to be an orphan, his father has the same red hair as him. Junior has a weird mutant possum pet, and a best friend who’s a girl not-named Trixie. His grandfather is the mayor, which very specifically didn’t happen in the films. And his father is a cop. Oddly the writers of the films did make the show, although I think it was drawn by a Spanish company which maybe explains it getting a bit lost in translation. The episode itself is pretty silly, Junior wants a toy bazooka, and scrimps and saves to buy the toy, only for it to turn out to all be elaborate false advertising. The episode ends with Junior getting revenge on the toy company president. D. Actually, maybe the worst adapted cartoon series I’ve seen. The Back to the Future show is way way better.