Monday, July 30, 2012

Trailer Not on the DVD: Firstborn (1984, Michael Apted)

We've waited a long time for Michael Apted's well-acted, sincere domestic drama Firstborn to hit DVD and Blu-ray.  It's finally come thanks to Olive Films and their partnership with Paramount (who couldn't be bothered to release this and just about any other deep catalog title themselves).  Per Olive's usual m.o., there are no extra features to speak of on the Firstborn disc.  I don't care that much about supplements, however as you can probably gather from visiting this site, I do wish that all films came with their theatrical trailers and television spots.  I'm not sure why Olive never includes trailers on their Paramount discs, as I've heard conflicting things from folks who have direct connections with Olive.

It has been said that there can be music rights issues with trailers, particularly if said trailers contain pop songs; in the case of Firstborn, the television spot contains Manfred Mann's Earth Band's 1984 single "Runner" (released in time for the Olympics that year) while the trailer uses "No Guarantees" by the Nobodys.  Both songs also appear in the movie proper (in fact, the video for "Runner" plays on a television in an early scene).

Teri Garr and Peter Weller are completely convincing in their roles, as are the kids played by Christopher Collet and Corey Haim (in his film debut).  As DVD Savant says in his review, this film and its players are ripe for rediscovery.  Weller impresses as bad guy Sam, particularly when one considers that he was playing that good-natured goofball Buckaroo Banzai in the same year.  Garr is known primarily for her comedic chops; here, she demonstrates how adept she could be in drama, offering a moving, often heartbreaking turn as a single mother at her most vulnerable.  Haim's work is a far cry from the slicker, more affected persona he took on in his Teen Beat glory years and has added resonance due to his tragic early demise.  Collet, who stars as the titular "firstborn" son has always been one of those actors I wish we had seen more of, such is the strength of his performance here; as it turns out, he has retired from the screen and he and his wife live mere blocks from my home where they operate a Pilates studio.  Haven't run into him yet.  The actor has the distinction of having starred opposite two of the future stars of Sex and the City in his two major feature film roles...Sarah Jessica Parker in Firstborn and Cynthia Nixon in 1986's The Manhattan Project.

In this shoot-from-the-hip Onion interview, Garr leaves almost nothing unscathed, including Firstborn. "That was my idea, because I wanted to stretch myself, and do something dramatic, and be in competition with everybody else. Glenn Close and Meryl [Streep], blah blah blah. And it was, once again, a sexist arrangement. It was about a tough guy who takes drugs, and I'm just a doormat. I help him and then I get addicted myself. It was supposed to be about how the man influences the son—which I truly believe in, in a Freudian way. But it didn't turn out that way at all. It was all about drugs or something. While we were making it. The producers and the director would be going, "Let's slam him against the wall," or "Slam him against the refrigerator!" And I thought, "Hmm, there's a lot of violence here." It was very macho. It wasn't right, as Kevin Meaney would say."


Tiffany Perez-King said...

Great post to a movie I remember digging. My mom dated a total douche bag that I had to get physical with just to try and protect my family and myself. I really identified with the whole "why won anyone believe me, this guy is bad news!" aspect - although there wasn't a motorcycle chase :) threr was plenty of chaos and i totally identified with the film. So I was refreshed to hear again about this movie I'd really almost forgotten about. The link to my 80s crush Terri Garr was great - candid is an understatement! What a character, I loved it. Thank you.

Ned Merrill said...

Thanks for the remembrance, Bill, even if it's a rough one. Years after I saw the film, my mom lived with an asshole and it, unfortunately, took years for my mom to extract herself from that toxic relationship, not the tidy time frame that we see in the film.

I identified with this movie through its constant repeats in afternoons on HBO. Growing up in Northern Jersey, I recognized many of these locations and Apted (a Brit) did that thing that outsiders often seem to be able to do better than locals: he accurately observed and captured the milieu in a naturalistic way. The scenes with Collet and Haim by themselves are quite special...great chemistry they had and they are very believable as brothers.

Teri Garr is a gem. I hope that she continues to be able to weather and fight through her disease.