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Sunday, 4 December 2016

Retro Review: Junior (1994) #Schwarzenegger

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny Devito, Emma Thompson, Frank Langella, Pamela Reed
Genre: Comedy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $100 million

Plot: As part of a fertility research project, a male scientist agrees to carry a pregnancy in his own body

'For An Unbelievable & Crazy Plot Therein Lies A Film Of Emotional Heart'

As crazy, off-the-wall and elaborate as Ivan Reitman is when it comes to his comedy movie offerings, I enjoy most of them, even though most stuffy critics do not. But with Junior, this is by far his craziest outing by a long distance, well premise-wise. Junior sees Arnold Schwarzenegger collaborate for a third time with Reitman after previous successes in Twins and Kindergarten Cop, as well as Arnie teaming up again with Danny Devito since Twins.

Junior is yet another one of those movies that I didn't watch when it was initially released in cinemas, nor bought on video, based on the idea alone, which I thought was just beyond absurd. So absurd that I thought it would make for a terrible film and I avoided it as a teenager. But being older now and by suspending my disbelief, I finally caved in - and whilst as over-the-top as it is, it's not too over-the-top and silly as people have made it out to be. In fact, there is also a warmness to it that prevents it from becoming too eccentric and ridiculous, as well as a perceptiveness and somewhat compassionate quality that Junior exuberates. Scientist Alex agrees to become a human guinea pig by using his own body to test a new fertility drug. With the effects of the drug taking its toll on Alex, he later realises that being pregnant makes him see things in a different light, as well as view his relationship with Diana.

This is Arnold at his most restrained, performance-wise, without all the macho action-hero antics and explosions and though a lot of people have said that he cannot act, this is the second movie where he plays against type (Twins was the first), and interestingly and surprisingly, Arnold rises to the task. Though one wouldn't normally associate him with this type of role, just by thinking he is limited in his range, - which he isn't- and being typecasted as an action movie star, never mind the role itself here. He is a very good actor when his character is asked and expected to be more dramatic & expressive that is, and yet again his performance shows his versatility as an onscreen performer, whilst retaining his charm; that and he plays Alex just right. As I have stated before in my review of Twins, Arnold has that uncanny ability that other action movie actors and stars lack when it comes to branching out towards comedy movies that he manages to pull off, with ease.

& as crazy as this ''man getting pregnant'' premise is, there were times in the film where the story did become a little mundane in places. Emma Thompson's character Diana, the scientific researcher/biologist plays a key role in Junior, as the egg that was injected into Alex's body, originally belonged to her; that and Alex later falls for her. She is a bit ditzy on occasions, yet has a good heart too. The remaining ensemble of Danny Devito, Pamela Reed, Frank Langella all provide good support to the film, as well as that each of them playoff Arnie really well.

One funny and freakish looking scene was a dream sequence when Alex holds the baby and when he looks at it has Arnie's/Alex's face on it! The comedic aspect here is very restrained, well, much more restrained, as well as touching and sweet in contrast to many of Ivan Reitman's comedy offerings, as for once it doesn't aim for the usual side-splitting sight gags, laughs and farcical humour; but that can be partly attributed towards the subject matter at hand. Of course, we have a plotline about a pregnant man, but as offbeat, as it is, you can only go as far and not take it too far as one can with it and with the comedy. By going way too far- and Junior might've been even more outlandish and ridiculous - it'll only make the idea or concept, even sillier and offputting.

There was a comedy released one year after Junior, titled 'Nine Months' directed by Chris Columbus that had a not too dissimilar premise to this one; but that film wasn't as good for me as this one, Junior for 2 reasons: 1) Julianne Moore and Hugh Grant did not express the same chemistry on screen, nor did I feel them as a couple compared to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Emma Thompson here and 2) but for Robin Williams's presence, the writing in Nine Months was far more sluggish than this film, and that it didn't make me smile throughout. Likewise, out of the two I prefer Junior over Nine Months.

Having said that, I felt that Junior needed to provide more of the type of humour that was from Twins (although I was a tad disappointed with that aspect in that film) and amusing moments and that it relied a tad too much on cliches and trivialising on the experiences of pregnant women. Otherwise, though the laughs are bare minimal, Junior retains a sense of humanity and is relatively heartwarming, and but for the premise, the movie was trying to point out how a man would react and feel if he was pregnant and in a good-natured way. But that was also something the critics and some viewers couldn't get their head around.

This could have turned out to be a complete and utterly horrible mess, but in viewing Junior, contrary to many, that was so not the case for me. 

But seeing Arnie in drag, as daft as he looked, was such a hoot!

Final Verdict:

Though it is not the usual laugh-riot one would expect in an Ivan Reitman comedy film, - and this coming from a viewer of his films, Junior still has plenty of heart in places too. You need to set aside all the crazy ideas and just think beyond the idea of a man getting pregnant. Given there has been a man who has given birth to a child in real life, as a film Junior, therefore, is no more as absurd as the plot is itself, and it's not just Arnie who impresses, but the rest of the cast deliver too, along with an emotional quality that Reitman and the writers have managed to carve out.

Billed as a farcical comedy and besides the absurd premise, Junior, is in fact, an enjoyable piece of fluff that is charming in places, more so than outrageous and silly through its humour and with really impressive performances.

It's a film that doesn't deserve the bad rep and bashing it received - take no notice of the IMDb rating. If you go into Junior with an open frame of mind, as I've done, you will find it enjoyable and worthwhile.


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