Critique: ‘Spanking the Monkey’ (1994)

DOWC American Ind 1.jpg
Directory of World Cinema: American Independent 1, edited by John Berra, published by Intellect Books, 2010

The central conceit of David O Russell’s debut feature that will stay with you after watching the film is that it is about incest, specifically the unnatural love shared between a mother and her son when housebound-sexual frustration becomes a force that will demolish taboos for the sake of gratification. Whilst the uniqueness of this theme within cinema ensures that Spanking the Monkey will always be seen as a titillating pre-Farelly brothers gross-out comedy, the film actually follows a rise-and-fall narrative that provides cringing suspense rather than visceral imagery, and then stalls with little to offer the viewer, once the act has occurred, other than flirtations with suicide, a lost dog and the token Oedipal gambit: ‘Don’t start acting like your father.’

Whereas the audience should feel awkward and shocked for being present during and after the act taking place, a true dilemma occurs when one begins to wish that the seduction had been more protracted. Soap gets dropped in the shower, massages creep up the thighs, and phrases such as ‘some girls don’t know what they want’ and ‘you’ve got to be gentle Raymond, you know how to be gentle’ are purred forth onto a sexually volatile teenage tabula-rasa. The darkly-humorous tensions within the first half of the film significantly outweigh the coming-to-terms misery that dictates the second half…


The full 700 word version of this review is published in Directory of World Cinema: American Independent 1, edited by John Berra, published by Intellect Books, 2010. 

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