Spanking the Monkey

A comedy about incest? And a relatively inoffensive one at that? You got it. Making his feature debut, David O. Russell crafts a bitingly funny tale of frustrated sexuality. We’ve all read that males reach their sexual peak in their early twenties, while women hit theirs in their forties. Russell doesn’t feed us this data, but it’s in the back of our minds as Ray (Jeremy Davies), a pre-med student returning home to tend to his invalid but still rather attractive mom (Alberta Watson), can’t get no satisfaction even alone in the bathroom, where his attempts to practice the titular act are foiled by the family dog.

Mom’s husband (Benjamin Hendrickson), a travelling salesman, is a philandering jerk. One night, after many uncomfortable moments in which Ray has obediantly scratched the itch under his mother’s leg cast or scrubbed her back in the shower, Mom and son get drunk and …. The movie quite amazingly stays on course after this Oedipal horror, exploring the sore emotional aftermath with surprising honesty and economy. If you laugh, it’s because you’re seeing this enormously difficult subject handled far more intelligently than you could’ve dreamed. Watson is remarkable as the demanding (but never grotesque) mom, giving us direct access to her loneliness and self-disgust; Davies, as the bewildered Gen-X Oedipus, is pitch-perfect.

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