THE ADDAMS FAMILY (2019)

Addams Family 2019.jpg

Studio:      MGM
Director:    Conrad Vernon, Greg Tiernan
Writer:      Matt Lieberman, Erica Rivinoja, Conrad Vernon
Producer:  Gail Berman, Conrad Vernon, Alex Schwartz, Alison O¡¯Brien
Stars:     Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Snoop Dogg, Bette Midler, Allison Janney

Review Score:

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Summary:

Wednesday Addams ventures into a normal neighborhood after her unusual family draws the attention of a TV personality determined to run them out of town.


Synopsis:     

Review:

Growing up on syndicated TV, I always preferred ¡°The Munsters¡± to ¡°The Addams Family.¡± The nuanced relationship commentary percolating beneath Gomez and Morticia¡¯s marriage flew with plenty of clearance above my scalp. Wednesday and Pugsley¡¯s monotone moping wasn¡¯t really relatable to more energetic interests either. Between the two horror households, The Addams Family felt comparatively ¡°normal,¡± which shouldn¡¯t be a word associated with them at all.

My tastes gravitated toward the Universal Monster madness of vampires, werewolves, and lumbering laboratory creations that ¡°The Munsters¡± supplied. Being in grade school, the irony of a fire-breathing pet dragon with the indistinct name ¡®Spot¡¯ hit the center of my developing sense of humor. Herman¡¯s clomping buffoonery held far more appeal for this cartoon-loving kid than watching Gomez kiss the length of Morticia¡¯s arm to a laugh track that wasn¡¯t mirroring my unimpressed reaction.

Each time I put my palm over a yawn during 2019¡¯s animated ¡°The Addams Family¡± feature, I kept thinking how Lily, Eddie, Grandpa, and Marilyn¡¯s manic antics would be better suited for a family-friendly mainstream makeover. The Addams clan isn¡¯t just colorless in their original comic panels and 1960s series. They take their corpse-like characters to the extreme with deadpan stiffness that doesn¡¯t translate into a lively cartoon.

I had to repeatedly remind myself that this movie was meant to captivate children. Yet I can¡¯t see how its lethargic pace, sterile style, and 80-year-old source material could possibly capture the interest of a young modern mind anxious for fresher flashes and louder bangs to keep distracted eyes from tilting down to a tablet. Judging by the film¡¯s ¡°well, whatever¡± critical reception (43% on Rotten Tomatoes), I¡¯m not off the mark.

Imagine the benefits this incarnation of The Addams Family would have reaped in live action. Oscar Isaac as Gomez? Absolutely inspired casting! Charlize Theron as Morticia? Why didn¡¯t I think of that! Hollywood couldn¡¯t come up with a better A-list coupling capable of meeting, even exceeding, the standards set by John Astin and Carolyn Jones or Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston. Even though Nick Kroll just does his ¡®Coach Steve¡¯ voice from ¡°Big Mouth¡± with a Jackie Coogan rasp as a tribute, he too makes for a practically perfect Uncle Fester.

Notable names don¡¯t stop at that top, though they do stop mattering since much of the star-studded cast is underused into irrelevancy. What¡¯s the point of casting comedy greats Martin Short and Catherine O¡¯Hara as Morticia¡¯s dead parents when they only appear in one scene, and as swirling smoke in a crystal ball at that? Can you remember the name of Tituss Burgess¡¯ character, or what function he fills in the film?

I was particularly interested to see/hear how Snoop Dogg would let loose as Cousin Itt. Turns out the stunt casting gimmick simply exists to have the hairy relative arrive at Addams manor to ¡°Drop It Like It¡¯s Hot¡± while walking with a pimp cane. Snoop¡¯s nonsensical mumbles then get the Alvin and the Chipmunks treatment. Itt¡¯s voice could have been anyone really, and Snoop might have literally phoned in his six-second performance.

The film¡¯s focus dials in on Wednesday¡¯s dilemma as a preteen discovering that a colorful world, albeit one of cookie-cutter complacency, exists outside the macabre mansion she¡¯s been forbidden from leaving her entire life. When the family draws the ire of a home renovation TV personality determined to take the eyesore Addams household off her ¡°Truman Show¡± neighborhood¡¯s skyline, Wednesday befriends the mad Martha Stewart¡¯s daughter Parker. Looking at each other¡¯s lives, the two girls realize they don¡¯t have to live up to impressions their parents project on them, and can instead express themselves with flair. For Parker, that means going goth. For Wednesday, it¡¯s mortifying Morticia by putting on a pink dress.

It¡¯s a wholesome, if simple, message about taking pride in individuality, although it doesn¡¯t say much in the end. Wednesday¡¯s journey of self-discovery should be about breaking away from her family¡¯s shadow. Except she ultimately returns to her roots by rejoining her parents and taking back her original appearance, exactly the opposite of what a transformative arc should entail.

And while it takes Wednesday the entire runtime to reach her revelation, Pugsley learns the same lesson in a one-minute exchange with Gomez where Pugsley apologizes for failing his father and Gomez apologizes for not letting Pugsley be himself.

The higher hurdle with putting the primary plot point on Wednesday is that she may be the least interesting Addams. Uncle Fester rattles off a list of all the bans he has received from his countless crazy adventures. Pugsley rides a rocket, nearly blows up his house, and routinely attacks Gomez with explosives. During a climactic family reunion, we meet quirky relatives with hair made of hedges or faces that project fire. I want to know more about these wildly weird people yet we¡¯re hopelessly hitched to Wednesday¡¯s perpetually somber sullenness.

I get that being casually morose is part of the Addams Family¡¯s shtick. But Chloe Grace Moretz, an incredibly talented actress, flattens Wednesday with boring intonations that highlight the movie¡¯s main problem: there¡¯s nearly no urgency in any actions.

¡°The Addams Family¡± moves along sleepily. It¡¯s missing the pop of a Pixar production or the lunacy of a Merry Melody. A little zip doesn¡¯t have to be alien to the macabre machinations of The Addams Family. This is a multimillion dollar animated extravaganza after all.

Yet whether it¡¯s Morticia building a bridge of spiders or Lurch repeatedly dragging out his ¡°yoooooooooou raaaaaaaaaang¡± catchphrase, a sloth could Road Runner right past many gags. Half-open eyes on every other character similarly put heavy eyelids on viewers. Everywhere you turn, a lack of snap in the tempo threatens to render audiences unconscious with carbon monoxide contagion.

The Addams Family would probably appreciate such a grim metaphor. Not for nothing, the animated movie bearing their name represents them accurately, just not always entertainingly. Maybe that¡¯s a byproduct of their dark dynamic. But instead of creating a kooky, spooky gateway to open up the bizarre brood¡¯s wider world for new eyes, ¡°The Addams Family¡± mostly makes a fleetingly flat in-and-out excursion into ¡°eh.¡± It¡¯s difficult to not be disappointed considering the big talent, big budget, but small ideas being worked with here.

Review Score: 55