On the whole, this indie dramedy or black comedy mostly doesn’t come together. The storyline has undeniable shock value, but Spanking the Monkey is really not funny enough consistently enough to succeed as a comedy, and it’s not sufficiently deep or interesting in its treatment of its main issues to succeed as a drama.
The protagonist is a college student who has just been accepted for a very prestigious, selective internship. His parents, who are pretty much clueless and indifferent about his life, summon him home because his mother has injured her leg and will be bedridden for a while, and his salesman father will be unable to take care of her due to having to be on the road for an extended period.
This pretty much screws up the protagonist’s internship, plus the dynamic at home is trying and unwelcome for him. His mother is difficult and they push each other’s buttons.
Besides being stressed by the situation and the lost internship, he’s a very young man, looking for an emotional and sexual outlet, but finding only confusion and frustration. The little high school girl he takes up with runs hot and cold—hot up until the point, and cold as soon as it looks like he’s going to get some—and decides that since he’s not pushing hard enough he must be gay, except when he does push, in which case he’s a rapist (and trying to compensate for the fact that he’s gay). He can’t even masturbate in peace because the dog always comes and stares at him when he tries.
The only time he and his mother seem to connect at all is when he’s assisting her physically—massaging her leg, putting lotion on her, helping her keep her balance in the shower, etc. She is starved for any kind of physical tenderness or affection like that, since she no longer gets any of it from her husband (who’s off having affairs on the road).
The father, by the way, is the funniest character in the movie. He’s arrogant, despotic, and petty, always speaking condescendingly to his son.
The protagonist is one of those deadpan characters in indie movies like this who just kind of floats along, his face subtly registering the fact that he is quietly disturbed by and disbelieving of the insanity of all those around him. It’s a style he pulls off fairly well.
Both mother and son appreciate their growing physical closeness, which makes them somewhat better able to communicate openly as well. One night they have a few drinks, and this time the massages and caresses end up in their having sex.
This complicates matters.
I don’t think it’s the incest that makes me say this movie isn’t all that good. It’s not like the mere fact that incest is in a movie at all will offend me and cause me to rate it down, or that specifically a movie’s treating incest semi-comedically will have that effect. It’s a challenge for a movie, certainly, to deal with such explosive material in a way that justifies its inclusion, but I don’t see any reason it should be impossible.
Spanking the Monkey doesn’t seem to do much with this material though. The mere fact that it’s there is enough for the shock factor, but it would be nice if it were something more than shocking.
It did make me speculate a bit on how common incestuous impulses like that are, and how commonly they are acted upon.
It’s not something I’ve ever studied or looked into. About the only thing I ever remember reading on this general topic was a piece a few years ago about how it’s really not uncommon for women to experience sexual pleasure when tending to their infants and toddlers, how it’s the kind of thing they virtually never talk about because they figure they must be the only person who feels that way and anyone they mention it to would be horrified.
Spanking the Monkey isn’t all that bad. It’s got some laughs, and it’s interesting here and there. But on the whole it’s not good enough for me to recommend.