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Addams Family Values

Addams Family Values
reviewed by Greta Christina

I realize that this is probably an eccentric viewpoint. But in my humble opinion, given a choice between a) a movie that's mostly sight gags and one-liners with virtually no plot, and b) a movie that's mostly sight gags and one-liners, with a plot that's pretty formulaic, is not very funny in itself, and takes up space that could have been filled with sight gags and one-liners, I'll pick the no-plotter anytime.

I loved the first Addams Family movie. Adored it. I thought it was sexy and subversive and hysterically funny. I saw it three times, and laughed almost as hard the third time as I did the first. So what if it didn't have a plot? Some of my favorite funny movies don't have plots. Monty Python and the Holy Grail doesn't have much of a plot. Airplane! has an incredibly threadbare plot. The Marx Brothers movies hardly have any plots at all. If sight gags and one-liners were good enough for the Marx Brothers, then they're good enough for me.

I enjoyed Addams Family Values. It was a pretty funny movie, and I liked it just fine. But that's about it. I didn't adore it, I didn't find it hysterical (although I did find it reasonably amusing), and while I would certainly recommend that you see it once, I probably wouldn't go back to see it again. And much of the reason why I liked it rather than loved it was -- you guessed it -- the plot.

Here's the story. Gomez (Raul Julia) and Morticia (Anjelica Huston) have a new baby. They hire a nanny, Debbie (Joan Cusack), who connives to marry Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd) so she can get his money and do him in. In the meantime, Debbie gets Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) shipped off to summer camp to keep them from getting in the way of her nefarious schemes.

Big fucking deal. Is this really a better or more substantial plot than the one about the Uncle Fester impersonator and his conniving mother trying to get at the Addams estate? It strikes me as being pretty generic; in fact, it resembles the plot of The Beverly Hillbillies much too closely for comfort. If "more plot" mean "more time telling the story and less time telling jokes," then the sequel does indeed have more plot than the original -- but why is this supposed to be a good thing?

I'm sorry. I'll get off my hobbyhorse now, and tell you about the movie.

The best thing about Addams Family Values, by about a billion miles, is Christina Ricci as Wednesday. She has much more screen time than she did in The Addams Family, and a damn good thing, too. In the original, she threatened to steal the show; in the sequel, she not only steals the show, she plunders it, ravages it, and rampages through the town waving the spoils triumphantly above her head. She is, quite simply, a hysterically funny comic actress. I pray that she doesn't succumb to the dreaded Child Actor Syndrome; if she can avoid that, she'll have quite a career ahead of her. The summer camp scenes are by far the best scenes in the movie, largely because she's in them. I look forward to the day when she turns 18. She is a goddess, and Wednesday is my new role model in life.

As for the rest... well, there's a lot of good sight gags and one-liners (although not enough for my taste), a little too much slapstick, a lot too much of the baby, too much Debbie (another goddamn conniving female villain -- this is getting real tiresome, folks) and not enough Morticia and Gomez.

It's twisted, kinky, sexy, and subversive, but not as much as the original was, and the kinkiness etc. is all a bit self-conscious. In the first movie, the subversive message -- namely, that a genuinely happy and supportive family in America would probably look like a bunch of demented freaks to the outside world -- was implicit in the characters and their relationships, and didn't have to be spelled out in two-foot-tall neon letters. It seems that the screenwriter (Paul Rudnick, author of the recent queer hit play Jeffrey) was trying as hard as he could to get that message into the sequel; as a result, the message is just a bit too strained and obvious.

But don't not see it on that account. Addams Family Values may not be the under-appreciated work of genius that I think The Addams Family was, but it's still a pretty gosh-darned entertaining night at the movies.


Copyright 1993 Greta Christina. Originally published in San Francisco Bay Times.

     

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