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Friday, 21 October 2016

Retro Review: Throw Momma From The Train (1987)

Throw Momma From The Train
Cast: Billy Crystal, Danny Devito, Anne Ramsey, Rob Reiner, Oprah Winfrey as herself
Genre: Black Comedy 
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $57 million 

Plot: Larry (Billy Crystal), an author with a cruel ex-wife, Margaret teaches a writing workshop where Owen (Danny Devito), one of his students, is fed up with his domineering mother. When Owen watches a Hitchcock classic that seems to mirror his own life, he decides to put the movie's plot into action and offers to kill Margaret, if Larry promises to murder his mother. Before Larry gets a chance to react to the plan, it seems that Owen has already sealed Margaret's fate 

'A Dark Comedy That Can Be Enjoyed By All'

Throw Momma From The Train is a dark comedy like no other and stars comedic actor Billy Crystal and Danny Devito, who also directs this movie. It was pretty big when it opened in cinemas and theaters in 1987, but has since become something of an afterthought and been forgotten about over the years. Truth to be told, but for Ruthless People I'm not really into Devito's brand of dark and acerbic comedy: as over-the-top as it can be; I just can't get into it, or it's just too cynical it puts me off (see my review for Death To Smoochy as a prime example of this). & likewise with Billy Crystal, he is a nice guy and all but other than Fathers' Day with Robin Williams, I'm not a follower of his movie work, and I too can't get into many of his movies. Besides Forget Paris, which was nice but nothing special. I revisited Throw Momma From The Train to see how it holds up, how I see things differently then to what it was before and whether it is as enjoyable now, as it was back then, nearly 30 years ago.

Devito plays Owen: a somewhat type of man-child, or make it mummy's boy to cranky momma, who is a massive burden in his life and thus, he is physically and verbally abused by her on a daily basis. He is a student from Larry's writing class and aspires to become a writer one day, but he has a problem and that is his mother doesn't approve of what he does and moans, whines, and even calls him every horrible and bad name under the sun. Owen daydreams of wanting to kill her to end his impending misery and there are a few dream sequences that illustrate this point. Crystal plays a creative writing teacher named Larry, working at a community college, who is stunned to find out his ex-wife has stolen his novel and makes a fortune out of it. Larry then tells Owen to watch some Hitchcock so he can see for himself, how it all works. Owen watches an Alfred Hitchcock movie and he takes inspiration from it in his plans to kill momma. When Owen tells Larry he is going ahead with his plan to murder his mother, at first Larry wants no part in it, although that doesn't stop Larry from doing what he sets out to do. And so they make a pact: Owen will kill Margaret and in exchange, Larry will murder Owen's mother.

The late Anne Ramsey of The Goonies plays the mother from hell: she was domineering, aggressive, disrespectful, brash, mean and overbearing towards not only Owen but Larry as well. She died shortly after this film and her performance were pretty remarkable.

Throw Momma From The Train lives up to its dark comedy moniker: the plot and story are dark and the comedy is entertaining and amusing to watch. Billy Crystal and Danny Devito are terrific and work well as a duo together. At first, I wasn't so sure as their comedic styles are both different, but the fun starts when Owen bumps off Larry's wife, and after that when he hits Larry on the head with a frying pan! It all leads to chaos and anarchy. Crystal is amusing in his usual straight man role, whilst Devito makes for an anti-hero type the audience can root for. They have this subtle, yet fond connection that makes Larry and Owen's relationship, through their performances, all the more pleasant and engaging. I just wished Billy starred in more comedy movies that were very much similar to this one and 1997's Fathers' Day: slapstick -orientated and as successful as his rom-com effort, When Harry Met Sally.

There is a very Hitchcock-like feel to this film and thus, it alternates between being a dark comedy to a suspense -type movie. The slapstick and physical comedy is effective and is played to the movie's strengths, alongside the dark tone. Beneath the laughs, smiles and giggles, lies the sombre and murky nature of the characters. Owen had to be likable and a person we could emphasise with his plight that we want him to be happy in the end, despite him wanting his mother dead.

Final Verdict:

Unlike Death to Smoochy, though the humour in that movie is exceedingly dark, here in Throw Momma From The Train, this is never mean-spirited and relies less on the cursing and foul language and more so on the slapstick to generate laughs. The dark themes worked well and I really liked the twists, especially the one towards the end of the film, whilst the ending was great, I loved it.

Its send-up to Strangers on the Train makes this one of the best comedy spoofs, ever and a dark comedy movie that anyone of any age can sit through and enjoy.

All in all, Throw Momma From The Train is an enjoyable dark comedy with terrific performances and an entertaining and curious narrative that doesn't overdo it and has a few light moments to balance out the somewhat lurid tone. 

It's not out and out a great Black comedy movie, but it's certainly an amicable one. 


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