I have never enjoyed stories about little boy hellions. I remember watching Problem Child and its sequel and the Denis the Menace movie as a child and being bothered by them, even while I believe I did laugh at the slapstick. (I have always been a sucker for slapstick.) As an adult, these types of films had even less of an appeal, especially in a film like this, when I feel for everyone in the film aside from the child. That’s because this kid is one hell of a hellion, capable of really awful things we’re supposed to find endearing and funny because he’s a kid with parents who don’t pay enough attention to him. (That’s not to say that this is a “kid frustrates adults” slapstick comedy from the 1990s. It’s not, obviously. But it has the same basic premise, only it’s a much more serious film. Sort of like the serious version of those films.)
Though this movie creates a strong sense of place – rural Quebec in the 1960s – there’s a fantastical element too it, as when the kid speaks to the camera, for example. So there’s definitely a suggestion that this may not be entirely “true.” But regardless, this child is the worst, and it’s hard to find him charming and endearing when he has literally zero regard for anyone or anything else except for his mother and, eventually, his girlfriend. I understand that this is just me, and that there’s nothing particularly wrong with this movie – there are plenty of dark/black comedies which I have enjoyed over the years featuring people doing terrible things to other people. But in those films, where it’s the adults being awful, I feel like it’s understood that they are awful people, and there’s no innocence to it. Here, it feels like the behaviour is excused – “Look, the kid’s parents fight all the time and his father ignores him and he’s just trying to amuse himself; he’s too smart for this life.” Fine. That doesn’t make me feel any better about his behaviour, which is awful and which is so unbelievably trying for everyone around him (except his girlfriend). I’m really saying that I am the older brother in this scenario, the kid who doesn’t understand why his younger brother can’t just be a little more considerate of other’s.
The film is well made. I have no complaints about the direction, editing or cast. And the sense of place is really, really good. But I just hate this child and that makes it very hard to like the movie.
PS There is also an underlying message here about nuclear families that I find pretty regressive. Yes, in a perfect world it would be nice if everyone grew up with their biological parents (and those parents loved them), but that isn’t the world we live in. Most kids – the vast, vast majority – whose parents have split up aren’t remotely this awful. (My parents separated when I was 6, in case you were wondering.)