"Raymond Aibelli is a promising medical student ready to begin a prestigious summer internship. But Susan, his mother, is immobilized by a broken leg, and his father Tom, a travelling salesman, makes Raymond stay home and take care of his mother, an attractive though unhappy woman. His mother's condition leads them to a degree of immediate physical contact which Raymond finds disturbing."
This is the feature debut from David O. Russel. This is the man who would later on make some of the most original and odd films out there. This however, his first film, is his most original,odd, and maybe even his best film yet.
I first heard about Spanking the Monkey when I heard it mentioned on an IFC original documentary about sex on film. They kept on mentioning and referencing it as a prime example of how sex can be treated on film. I forgot to mention, the mother and son have sex. Yeah, it's more uncomfortable than it sounds. The whole film is driven through it's second half because of this and because of it Spanking the Monkey has become one of those films that you can debate and talk about for a long time. Sadly, or not sadly (I don't know), it will be hard to find one person who has watched or will watch it.
There is more to this film than "the mother has sex with the son. Ewwww!!" There are layers of psychology going on in this film. It's not surprising since it's David O. Russel and this seems to be an ongoing theme with him. I Heart Huckabees might be the best example of this. Other than the ongoing theme of psychology we are treated to some true dark comedy. By dark I mean pitch black. The comedy ranges everywhere from dialogue driven gags to slapstick but most all we are treated to some very awkward and uncomfortable comedy.
O. Russel is somehow able to make a scene go from uncomfortable to funny in a matter of seconds and this is why I liked the film so much. It's a very brave and bold film that takes more chances than it should and ends up working. Whats even more impressing is that this is the first film from him. I can't figure out how he was even able to make this film and get people to watch it. It seems like an impossible sell and an even more impossible thing to pull off.
The reason the film works is do to a lot of raw talent. The performances are just right and perfectly played out. Jeremy Davies, who was a scene stealer in Saving Private Ryan, turns in a brilliant very intense and often funny performance as the troubled son. The script is smart and well written and everything comes off natural. The direction, although simple, suits the film perfectly as well. The only flaw the film has is some secondary characters that pop up every now and then and just annoy the viewer since they don't influence the plot that much
Spanking the Monkey may not be for everyone. It's a film that has to be seen to be believed and few people will take the chance. It's a shame because there is much more to the film than the controversy it provokes and still keeps provoking.