Mr. Birthday


Eric Roberts doesn’t have a clue why he took the role either.

(2021) Family Comedy (VMI) Jason London, Eric Roberts, Anna-Marie Dobbins, Charlotte Ciano, Fred Sullivan, Tanja Melendez Lynch, Mike Messier, Ainsley Drury, Rachel Dulude, Audrey Fratelli, Joshua Maurice Johnson, Isabella Sousa, Gabriella Spinney, Chelsea Vale, David Gere, Michel Badejo, Connor Holden, Michael Dubuc, Robert J. Morgan, Scout Lyons, Cynthia Souza. Directed by Dan Hunter

 

The trouble with family comedies is that in general, the things that kids find funny are very different than what adults find funny. Kids tend to prefer a broader, direct kind of humor – and if you can work farts and toilet humor in, so much the better – while adults need a little bit more subtlety. Although, truth be told, some adults tend to get their yuks from stuff more along the lines of what kids do.

Barry (London) is a single dad, raising his little girl Emily (Ciano) in a new city. He works as a maintenance man in a high-end apartment building with an overbearing boss (Lynch) and snide residents like Rick (Roberts). Emily is doing her best, but she is very lonely – no friends to speak of, other than Alex (Johnson) who is the only one to show up to her birthday party. Kind-hearted Barry does his best to soften the blow, but it isn’t easy; he’s feeling the pain himself, although the comely Jess (Dobbins) looks to ease some of his burden.

But the mysterious Mister Jay (Sullivan) offers Barry a new job – with the International Birthday Network, an organization dedicated to making sure no child has a crappy birthday anywhere on the globe. Barry proves to be uniquely well-suited for the position, but can he make this new life work for both him and Emily?

The emphasis here on the movie is in treating others with respect, working hard and chasing dreams, all good lessons for kids. Both Barry and Emily prove good role models for the youngsters. Still, the small set might find the movie’s pace to be a little bit slow for them – the movie doesn’t even introduce the IBN until nearly two thirds of the way through, although once it does the movie does pick up steam.

London comes off a bit like a poor man’s Tim Allen in both delivery and character (Allen did a number of these types of roles in a string of children’s’ movies in between Home Improvement and Last Man Standing). He does capture a certain good-hearted Dad vibe and his chemistry with Ciano is genuine and natural.

I don’t have anything about kidflicks; kids deserve good entertainment too, and some movies that cater to them are simply not going to appeal to adults and that’s okay; eating plain hamburgers without anything on them doesn’t appeal to me either and that’s how my kid used to eat them. Tastes develop; they don’t appear overnight. Still, from what I can remember from my increasingly distant years back as a child myself, I can’t see this movie appealing heavily to either kids or their parents, except in the most mild and non-passionate way.

REASONS TO SEE: Their heart is certainly in the right place.
REASONS TO AVOID: Slow-paced to a fault; doesn’t really get going until more than an hour in.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some rude humor and bullying.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jason has a twin brother Jeremy who is also an actor.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Hoopla, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS:  As of 1/18/22: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Santa Clause
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Being the Ricardos

Cecil


What do you mean most adults aren’t idiots?

(2019) Family (Vision) Sark Asadourian, Jason London, Christa Beth Campbell, Jenna von Oy, Aaron Munoz, Valerie Jane Parker, Avary Anderson, Susannah Devereaux, Graham Schneider, Maddie Kimrey, Mary Alfred Thoma, Reese Gould, Amiya Harris, Anna Grace White, Robert Gobelet, Jay Dee Walters, Noah Quarles, Kaiden Scott, Drake Light, Sarah Reynolds. Directed by Spencer Fritz

 

Most of us, growing up, have spent time watching movies aimed at kids our age at the time. Those movies were often over-the-top, always kid-centric and often portrayed the adults as essentially idiots whose sole purpose was to make our lives as kids miserable. These movies were mostly essentially meant to empower us, to give us the feeling that we could accomplish anything without the help of our parents. Mainly though we ended up learning that adults were not to be respected and that the only way to get things done properly was to do them ourselves.

The unfortunately named Cecil Stevens (Asadourian) has a lisp, which is not generally not a favorable condition when you’re in the fourth grade. Just saying his own name essentially paints a target on his back. Worse still his mom (von Oy) and dad (London) are having problems and have separated, forcing mom to take Cecil to his super hip grandma’s (Thoma) to live which means a new school. His new neighbor Abby (Campbell) who is also editor of the school newspaper tries to show her new friend the ropes but eventually she hits upon the solution – Cecil will just have to change his name.

Cecil is fine with that and even has a name in mind: Michael Jordan. Seeing as this is 1996, the new name brings Cecil great popularity and everyone wants to change their name to a celebrity. However, the unscrupulous principal (Walters) gets wind of the idea and decides that this is an ideal way to make the money to pay off the loan shark he owes money to, which has led him to cut school programs and funneling the money to the shark. When the newfound popularity goes to Cecil’s head, he is about to learn one of the great lessons of childhood – that actions have consequences.

Setting the movie in 1996, which was likely when the writer/director was experiencing the fourth grade himself, might have seemed a good idea at the time but in retrospect is a misstep; most of the age group this movie is clearly aimed at won’t have any memories of the nineties whatsoever. A more contemporary setting would have been a better idea.

The real problem here is that this is a movie that is severely dumbed down. There’s a whole lot of toilet humor and nearly every adult is an over-the-top caricature, the adult actors chewing scenery like living Cartoon Network characters. This makes the movie unwatchable for just about anyone who is older than seven or eight; even the fourth graders that inhabit this film would have rolled their eyes at this one.

Fortunately, the actors playing the lead kids – Asadourian and Campbell – acquit themselves surprisingly well. They get into their parts and even though they aren’t delivering naturalistic performances, the roles really don’t lend themselves to reality to begin with.

Parents may find the message to be a sound one but they likely won’t be willing to watch this one with their kids without some sort of distraction. Any kids movie which has the moms and dads whipping out the smart phone while the movie is playing is in big trouble.

REASONS TO GO: Asadourian and Campbell actually do a credible job.
REASONS TO STAY: Any viewer over the age of seven will end up being put off by this. The target audience won’t get the 90s references.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of rude humor, adult buffoonery and some mild bullying.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is loosely based on the director’s childhood.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/11/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Harriet the Spy
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
Book Club