We can and do all disagree on what movies are good and bad, which is besides the point. The only definition of “what a good movie is” that matters to me is this:
A good movie is one that inspires me to create.
Which means Parents damn well qualifies, because I haven’t been able to get this bizarre film about a kid learning that his parents are cannibals out of my head. Its considerable powers have been curdling my brain into rancid, pink meat.
Directed by Bob Balaban (AKA one of those indelible character actors you’d immediately recognize when you see him in a Wes Anderson or Christopher Guest film or as the NBC studio exec who gained an unfortunate crush on Elaine in Seinfeld), Parents rightly identifies our parents as the scariest people in an adolescent’s life to turn out to be cannibals.
Especially when one of the hungry parents is played by Randy Quaid. Like a delicious dry aged beef, casting decisions just don’t age better than that.
Parents is about that horrifying moment in your life when you realize your parents are fallible (when you realize EVERYONE is fallible), when you realize most of your foibles come from them, amping up that enlightening realization to obscene, uncomfortable and absurdly Freudian levels because this happens during puberty. The movie feels like a couple of stoned therapists giggling about dream psychology, which is why I love it.
It’s hard to describe that transcendent feeling one has when you discover an unknown cult film that feels like it was made for you. It’s as if I’m being seen and heard by Bob Balaban and co., despite the fact that they made this film when I would’ve been barely more than an amuse-bouche on my parent’s table.
But let’s put more food on that table, shall we?
Appetizer: I’ve dressed up as Dr. Jacobi for Halloween (my wife was Dead Laura Palmer) and I believe Twin Peaks is one of the greatest artistic achievements in popular culture. David Lynch is my North Star for what the Art Life can be.
Dessert: For years, my friends and I enjoyed Meatloaf Mondays, a weekly house party with a different themed meatloaf each week.
Thankfully, we never tried human loaf… but Parents makes that the entrée for this particular meal: yes, there’s a surreal, sausage-laden, all kinds of sexual “Meatloaf Mambo” musical number composed by Twin Peaks’ Angelo Badalamenti.
It’s one of those cinematic moments that remind you life is magical, that permanently connects me to Bob Balaban and everyone involved in this wonderfully off-kilter film. That inspires me to cook my own Meatloaf Mambo.
Parents might not get your stomach rumbling. But it did mine, leaving me hungry for more.
Parents is now streaming for free on TubiTV.