With America’s Thanksgiving just around the corner and in light of my recent review of the first movie, it seemed only natural that I take this moment to review Addams Family Values. For those of you who’ve seen this movie, you’ll know why it’s so appropriate around this time of year. If you haven’t seen it, it’s currently on Netflix. Do yourself a favor. Just watch and enjoy it.
At the end of the first film, Morticia (Anjelica Huston) alluded to the fact that the Addams clan would soon be growing. At the beginning of Addams Family Values, she gives birth to the latest little Addams, Pubert (Kaitlyn and Kristen Hooper). Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) don’t react all that well to their new sibling and spend a great deal of time trying to find new and creative ways of dispensing with their adorable little problem. The familial turmoil leads Gomez (Raul Julia) to suggest hiring a nanny to help ease the strain. That’s how black widow Debbie (Joan Cusack) enters their lives.
In the meantime, Fester (Christopher Lloyd) is lonesome. As much as he loves his family, he’s looking for that special someone. Debbie, sensing a golden opportunity, decides to make her move. First, she has Wednesday and Pugsley sent off to a cheerful summer camp. With them out of the way, she can devote more of her time and focus to Fester’s seduction. He’s an easy, smitten mark. Her plan goes swimmingly except for one pesky detail: Fester’s really hard to kill.
As far as sequels go, this one is a worthy successor. While it’s missing a little something that made the first film so special, it’s still a fun, albeit occasionally problematic, movie. I’ll get into the problematic bits in my final thoughts. Anyway, this movie continues the on-going theme of identity and embracing what makes you unique. The experiences of Pugsley and Wendesday at summer camp is an interesting mirroring of their uncle’s marital life. Both seem to stress a bland sort of conformity as external forces try to pressure the Addamses into being something they clearly aren’t.
It was fantastic to see the cast from the first film returning for the second, with the exception of Judith Malina being replaced by Carol Kane as Granny. I’m not really sure why that change occurred, but Kane has a great, kooky energy that works well in the role. Speaking of kooky, I love Joan Cusack as the homicidal, needy Debbie. All she wants is love and money, though not entirely in that order. Having seen more of Cusack’s work since my first viewing of this, it’s great to see her as a funny femme fatale. It’s something we don’t often see from her and she pulls it off so spectacularly.
The movie holds up well after twenty years. It’s really hard to believe that it’s been twenty years. I wouldn’t have thought that until I heard the songs that were playing over the end credits. Oh man, 90’s hip hop. Don’t ever change. While the end credit songs may feel a little incongruous, I suppose they’re a fitting, jarring end to a movie full with some interesting surprises.
The Addamses are a remarkably feminist family. Gomez is a loving and supportive husband who only suggests hiring a nanny to allow Morticia some more time to pursue her own interests. They’ve raised Wednesday to be an independent young lady with a firm sense of her own self. When confronted with the truth about Debbie, they don’t judge her for what she’s done. They’re understanding and sympathetic even when faced with their own imminent demises. That being said, there is a moment that just made me sigh and roll my eyes.
At Fester’s bachelor party, Gomez discovers that Lurch (Carel Struycken) has accidentally baked the stripper into the cake. His response to that news is to sigh, say, “That poor girl,” and then to carry on with the party as normal like nothing had happened. Much as I love the movie, that poor girl just died and her death shouldn’t have been played for a laugh. As macabre as the Addams movies are, that’s just an uncomfortable step to take.
Moving on from that problematic bit, let’s talk about one of the most iconic scenes from the movie: the camp play. While the “normal” children are all given prime roles as pilgrims in the camp director’s interpretation of the first Thanksgiving, Wednesday and the other “outcasts” are cast as “Indians.” I’m putting that word in quotes because that’s not the term we use these days. Anyway, that casting decision says as much about the kids as it does about the camp directors. While Wednesday appears to be going along with the script, she takes a very notable detour to spout some uncomfortable truths about the future of the native population. Then, she and her band of misfits sets fire to the set and subsequently the camp. It’s one of the best moments in the movie. You can see why it’s really appropriate for watching this time of year.
Watching the movie brings back memories of my adventures at summer camp. Fortunately, my summer camp was less painful than the one that the Addams children attend. In fact, I have some fond memories of my time at 4-H Camp. I’ll tell that story later. Now, back to the movie.
My final, final thought about this movie is how the Addams Family movies continue to show healthy vs. unhealthy relationships. In the first film, we got to see the comparison of families. In this film, they showed us romantic relationships in various forms. The three primary couples in the movie are Gomez and Morticia, Debbie and Fester, and Wednesday and the boy who falls for her at camp, Joel (David Krumholtz). Gomez and Morticia are madly in love with each other. They’re as passionate as newlyweds with what appears to be a healthy and active sex life.
With their example, it’s understandable that Fester is eager to find his mate. Debbie, however, is a terrible choice. Sure, she seemed all right, but their relationship is clearly unhealthy. After their marriage and first failed murder attempt, she separates him from his family. She’s using sex to keep him in line and try to mold him into the kind of person she can at least tolerate. While Fester may be in love with her, it’s clear that Debbie doesn’t even like him very much at all.
Now, in the juvenile love department, Joel is head over heels for Wednesday. She’s fond of him, but honest about the fact that she’s not necessarily interested in romance right now. After all, they’re still young yet. Still, he’s eager to win her affections and fits in quite well with the Addamses. That’s always a good start.
I love that this movie has clear examples of what constitutes as a healthy relationship vs. the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship. I love that the Addamses care so much about each other. I love how they’re close enough to notice some clear warning signs when it comes to Fester’s relationship with Debbie.
I love this movie.