Doing Time On Maple Drive Movie Review
Mix one part Ordinary People and one part The Great Santini, water it down with TV production values, add a dash of gay-teen after-school special, and you've got the Maple Drive formula. Dated even when it came out, the film's only worthwhile contribution to cinematic history is its casting of a young Jim Carrey in one of his only truly dramatic roles (and by the way, he's actually not bad).
The Carters of New England are a gloriously screwed-up bunch. Father Phil (James Sikking) is a military man who runs a tight ship and keeps his family on edge, especially his wife Lisa (Bibi Besch), who has probably spent the past 25 years looking for the right mix of uppers and downers to get her through her marriage to the cold SOB.
Oldest son Tim (Carrey) is a post-college failure living at home and drinking like a fish. He's a disgrace, and Dad lets him know it. Daughter Karen (Jayne Brook) is supporting her artist husband Tom (David Byron), and the youngest son, Yale student Matt (William McNamara), is Mom and Dad's pride and joy. In fact, he's engaged to the superperfect Allison (Lori Laughlin), and wedding plans are underway. Matt's only glitch: He's a closeted self-hating homosexual, and the upcoming nuptials are making him very nervous.
It's Matt who eventually becomes the focus of Maple Drive. After Mom walks in on him making out with his secret boyfriend, she goes into world-class denial, while Matt decides the sensible thing to do is to kill himself as quickly as possible by driving a car into a tree. He survives and calls it an accident, but when Tim finds out there were no skid marks near the tree, the truth is revealed. Matt outs himself, Allison smartly walks away from the whole mess, and Dad blows a gasket.
The interesting parts of Maple Drive kick in when family role reversals start to take place. Irresponsible Tim becomes a calm voice of reason, arguing that Matt should be free to be who he is. Dad actually listens and eventually becomes far more sympathetic to his plight than Mom, who's caught up in a full-fledged sex panic, ever does. One by one, the family members have it out with Dad until he slowly realizes that it's better to have a gay son than a dead son. To which most viewers, both gay and straight, will say, "Well, duh!"
What's irksome about the film is that in 2004, Dad's realization is stunningly obvious, and it would have been equally obvious in 1992 (although Fox has never been known as a bastion of liberalism). Maple Drive seems straight out of 1978, and that makes it annoying to watch in this day and age. Yes, it's interesting to see Dad go through a transformation, and yes, it's interesting to see Jim Carrey try out his dramatic chops, but there's not enough here to hold your interest for long.