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Just call it a more fatal approach to child-rearing

With a slight bit of humor and lots of creepiness, `Loverboy' points to a childhood of desperation.

June 16, 2006|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

Back when I was in college, one of my professors delivered a lecture on gender roles as they are defined and reenforced by the media. He summarized the plot of "Fatal Attraction," recasting the main roles with people of the opposite sex. Oh, how we laughed as he described the lonely, desperate single man, who upon finding out that his married lover was pregnant with his child, went berserk in his pursuit of her, desperate to be involved in the parenting of the child.

Of course, that was in the '80s, when stuff like that was still funny. Camp histrionics notwithstanding, "Fatal Attraction" made perfect sense to us as it was at the time. The marriage panic, brought to us by Newsweek, was in full bloom, so being Glenn Close was the freakiest thing any educated, middle-class girl could imagine.

The new panic, brought to us by everybody, all the time (though Oprah gave it a good PR push in 2002, with her show on the infertility "epidemic" among women over 35), concerns what follows sitting in the tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g.

Four years later, we're in the throes of yet another campaign to get educated working women (the other kind don't count) out of the workplace and into the mommy-and-me yoga class. It's probably only a coincidence that we live in the industrialized country with the poorest track record of helping women work and have babies at the same time.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 22, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Kevin Bacon: The review of "Loverboy" in Friday's Calendar referred to the film as Kevin Bacon's directorial debut. It is his debut as a feature film director; he directed a TV movie for Showtime in 1996.

I couldn't help thinking about this as I watched "Loverboy," Kevin Bacon's curious but engaging directorial debut, based on a novel by Victoria Redel, which struck me as a "Fatal Attraction" for our time. Not to put the movies on the same level -- Bacon's film is funny, wry, dark and infinitely subtler than Adrian Lyne's campy fright-fest. But if you squint, you can see the line connecting them.

Kyra Sedgwick, Bacon's wife, plays a woman whose sole purpose in life is to have a child. So she explains in her voice-over, an extended love letter to her son, Paul (Dominic Scott Kay).

The story is told episodically, in shuffled chronological order. Emily's (Sedgwick) life with Paul is intercut with flashbacks of young Emily's life with her parents, played by Marisa Tomei and Bacon with comic brio.

Emily is a dour kid, the only child of cheerfully self-obsessed '70s caricatures so deeply in love with each other they have absolutely no time for her. Her only friend is Mrs. Harker (Sandra Bullock, in a tiny but well-realized role), the best mom in the neighborhood, in Emily's estimation, and certainly the only one who walks her sons to the bus every morning.

Emily grows up wanting to right her childhood by having her own kid and lavishing him with attention. She pursues her purpose single-mindedly and quite amusingly, first via mailorder insemination and, when that fails, by embarking on a one-night-stand spree with every genetically gifted stranger she encounters. "I was like the great jewelers of the Byzantine searching through stacks of stones," she tells Paul in voice-over. When she finally gets pregnant, her life begins. She buys a house in a nice neighborhood in upstate New York and devotes herself exclusively to Paul's upbringing and to keeping all interlopers -- basically, anybody that comes near them -- at bay.

Sedgwick, with her wild blond hair and her black-hole eyes, is excellently creepy as a woman luxuriating in her own foamy madness. (You can't really call it a descent since Emily seems to have been born there.) At one point, she stuns the principal and teacher at Paul's school -- where he has insisted on going despite her preference for home-schooling -- by responding to the principal's friendly suggestion that she join a group of mothers who might help out if she ever needs a break with an icy "I'm not looking. For a break. From my child."

The cast of "Loverboy" is uniformly excellent, with powerhouse actors taking even the smallest roles. Oliver Platt plays a secretary in the principal's office, who gets to know Emily well as she constantly yanks Paul out of school to go on picnics. Matt Dillon plays a graduate student who briefly befriends Paul at the beach house Emily rents in a desperate attempt to get away from concerned neighbors. And Campbell Scott plays Paul's father -- a married salesman with whom Emily has a passionate one-night stand at a convention. The title refers to the humiliating nickname Emily bestows on her son, despite his protestations. And it's entirely appropriate to her character. When Paul rejects her romantic plans a deux, she peers at him, her tiny dark eyes moist under her mop of blond curls, a wounded lover who looks for all the world like she's staring at Michael Douglas. (There are no bunnies in "Loverboy." Emily's beef is with a little wounded bird that Paul has grown attached to.)

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