Sunday, July 5, 2015

Meet the Applegates (Michael Lehmann, 1990)

Over the past year, I've seen the stocking tops of rock legend Deborah Harry (Drop Dead Rock), Star Trek: DS9 actress Nana Visitor (The Spirit), Dame Helen Mirren (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover) and Brat Pack-adjacent cutie-pie Jami Gertz (Less Than Zero). Well, you can add another stocking top glimpse to my ever-growing list. No, not Stockard Channing. What's that? Cami Cooper? Uh-uh, not her either. At around the midway point in Meet the Applegates, the best satire about a family of giant praying mantis' living in suburban Ohio to come out in 1990, and, not to mention, the third best "Meet" movie from the period (Meet the Hollowheads is #1, while Meet the Feebles comes in at #2), we get to see the tops of Dabney Coleman's stockings. You heard right. I said, Dabney Coleman. I'll give you a few seconds to adjust your genitals, as they no doubt changed shape the moment I said Dabney Coleman's name in correlation with stocking tops. Are you good? Great. While I was already sold on this movie way before he even makes his first appearance, Dabney Coleman in drag pretty much solidified its standing as a substantial work of art.

Taking place in the same small town Ohio universe that birthed Heathers and Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael, Meet the Applegates... Actually, now that I think about it, Meet the Applegates could be seen as a sequel to Heathers. Sure, the script lacks Daniel "Fuck Me Gently With a Chainsaw" Waters' trademark snarky dialogue. It does, however, boast other less important  Heather alumni, such as writer-director Michael Lehmann, tubby southern dandy Glenn Shadix, three out of the four producers (including Denise Di Novi), and Mark Bringelson and Chuck Lafont (the cops from the "oh, man, I can't believe they were fags" scene). So, you see, it's got a lot more going for it than Dabney Coleman in drag.

If that wasn't enough... (Yeah, yeah. Not only does Dabney Coleman appear in drag, but he plays a praying mantis disguised as Dabney Coleman dressed in drag.) I was going to say, Susan Barnes (Repo Man) puts on a kooky sweater clinic in this movie. But you're kind of right. There are actually multiple levels going on with Dabney Coleman's character.

Let's see if I can break it down: Dabney Coleman plays Aunt Bea, the queen of a species of large praying mantises who live in the Amazon rainforest. In order to pass as human, Aunt Bea uses the body of a man who looks like Dabney Coleman. And since Aunt Bea is still a female praying mantis underneath her Dabney Coleman costume, she instinctively wears women's clothing.

Not to toot my own horn, but that has got to be the greatest Dabney Coleman/Aunt Bea break down ever.

The reason Aunt Bea is trying to pass as human is because the forest her species of praying mantis (the "Brazilian Cocorada bug") calls home is being threatened by deforestation. And since they can't strike back at humanity looking like praying mantises (though, I can't see why not), they decide instead to go undercover. And this is where the Applegates come in.

Sent on a mission to destroy a nuclear power plant in suburban Ohio, the Applegates,  Dick Applegate (Ed Begley Jr.), Jane Applegate (Stockard Channing), Sally Applegate (Cami Cooper) and Johnny Applegate (Robert Jayne, a.k.a. Bobby Jacoby), pretend to be an average American family.

In-between keeping Aunt Bea informed of their progress and maintaining the illusion that they're normal, the Applegate's struggle to resist the many temptations that humans face on a daily basis.

The first to succumb to temptation is Sally, who causes Vince Samson (Adam Biesk - Corey Halfrick from My So-Called Life), a high school football player, to pop a chubby when she walks by in red shorts. Now, it should be noted that while Sally is interested in Vince (and his erect penis), she clearly didn't want him to rape her on a trampoline.  No, that's definitely not what she intended. As a result of this rape, Sally's gets pregnant. However, instead of calling the police, Sally elects to rap him up in a cocoon and hide his anesthetized corpse in her bedroom closet.

In today's world, rape and high school football go hand in hand. But back in 1990, rape was frowned upon. In other words, this was a big deal back then. Or maybe it wasn't. I remember it being illegal, that's for sure.

You could apply the same logic almost every temptation subplot. Take Bobby's dilemma, for example. If you were to see a movie or a TV show made today that featured a teenage boy smoking pot, you would probably shrug your shoulders. But back in 1990, smoking pot was a no-no. As you might expect, the sight of a fresh-faced Bobby–who befriends Kevin and Kenny (Philip Arthur Ross and Steven Robert Ross), a couple of stoners/headbangers in matching denim vests–smoking weed out of a bong sent shock waves across the square, Just Say No-saturated landscape that was 1990.

Since I'm on a role, I might as well bring up Jane's temptation, which is, credit card debt. While browsing the local dumpsters for groceries (remember, they're praying mantises, not people), Jane makes friends with Opel Withers (Susan Barnes), the stylish wife of Dick's boss. When Opel takes Jane clothes shopping, she is surprised to learn that Jane doesn't have a credit card. Well, you can pretty much guess what happens next. (Jane gets a credit card?) And not only that... (She accumulates a massive credit card bill?) Well, yeah.

Anyway, like rape and marijuana usage, credit card debt is now seen as an everyday part of life. In fact, if you're not a pot smoking rapist in debt, the government views you with suspicion.

Should I mention Dick's temptation? What the hell. It's basically sex. The temptation for a man to mount the milfy hips of a shapely co-worker in a sexual manner  has always been around, so, this subplot lacks the bite of the others. Nonetheless, I found Savannah Smith Boucher's "milfy hips" to be sublime and would mount them in a New York minute... if she wanted me to. Remember kids. Rape is against the law. Oh, and Miss Boucher, in case you're wondering, plays "Dottie," Dick's sultry secretary.

While not really a temptation, per se, I thought the film's pro-environmental message to be a tad ahead of its time. Most folks don't know this, but the only people who were genuinely interested protecting the environment back in 1990 were Sting and, ironically, Ed Begley Jr., so, to see a relatively mainstream Hollywood movie imply that cutting down the rainforest could have a negative effect on the planet's ecosystem was quite daring.

If I didn't know any better, I think, judging by what I've written so far, that this film is trying to tell us something. Sure, it might have failed miserably at stopping the rise of rape culture, and its stance on drugs might seem outdated in today's pro-legalization climate, but Meet the Applegates was on the cutting edge when it came to saving the planet.

Messages aside, the film is actually funny in places. The biggest laugh comes when Jane stumbles across Dick watching television in the middle of the afternoon, and Dick says, "I thought I'd take the afternoon off to watch some curling." I don't know if Dick knows this, but watching curling is the least normal thing an American can do.

As the Applegate's start to run out of places to hide all the people they've "kidnapped" (each family member ends up cocooning someone in a sack made out of fibrous material), things begin to spiral out of control. It doesn't help matters that Dick's hooked on milf pussy, Jane's become a shopaholic, Johnny's a drug addict and Sally's a pregnant lesbian. If only there was a way for humanity and nature to coexist with one another. According to this film, coexistence is possible. But that dream has long since died. Well, that was a depressing thought. To cheer myself up, I'm going to put on my winklepickers and dance to The Sisters of Mercy... in the dark. "Black. Black planet. Black. Black world." Oh, yeah... that's the stuff.

Special thanks to Stacie for recommending this movie.


  1. This is one of those cheap straight to vhs movies that escaped me...I've always been curious for it! It reminds me of The Coneheads, another film that analyzes family life. On that note, have you even seen a movie called Parents (1989)? Something tells me you'd enjoy it, it's similar to these types of films, but far weirder.

    1. I actually own Parents. Well... sort of. It's featured on one of those Lionsgate multi-pack thingies. Anyway, it's on the "to watch list."

  2. Yeah, that's how I came upon it as well, it's an extremely straaaange film! But same as Applegates, it analyzes the american family. It's got a real strange pace to it, and an offbeat vibe.

  3. Applegates was half good but ultimately disappointed me, I feel like the scriptwriter bailed or something.