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  • Cool Ass Comedies: The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981) review

    Friday, Jan 6, 2012 1:33PM / Standard Entry / Members only


    THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WOMAN 1981

    Lily Tomlin (Pat Kramer/Judith/Ernestine the Telephone Operator), Charles Grodin (Vance Kramer), Ned Beatty (Dan), Henry Gibson (Dr. Nortz), Elizabeth Wilson (Dr. Ruth Ruth), Mark Blankfield (Rob), Maria Smith (Concepcion), Rick Baker (Sydney)

    Directed by Joel Schumacher

    The Short Version: If you enjoyed movies like Joe Dante's INNERSPACE (1987), than you're likely to get a giggle or two from this cheerful homage to Jack Arnold's THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) starring famous comedienne, Lily Tomlin. There's also quite a bit of social satire on hand showcasing America's obsession with consumer products (what WOULD we do without Galaxy Glue?), suburban communities and the plight of the 80s 'Suzie Homemakers' of the world. All that and Award winning make up artist Rick Baker decked out in yet another of his amazing ape suits.


    Suburban housewife Patricia Kramer enjoys a chaotic existence as a stay-at-home-mom till she develops a little problem. After being exposed to a new perfume that inexplicably reacts with a multitude of household products, Pat undergoes a peculiar transformation that results in her shrinking day by day. Becoming a community celebrity of sorts, she attracts the attention of a secret corporation led a group of malicious scientists. They plan to use her blood for a shrinking serum with the intention of reducing the Earth's population literally down to size.


    Joel Schumacher's (THE LOST BOYS, BATMAN FOREVER) theatrical feature film debut is an endearing, enjoyably low key science fiction comedy that will appeal to lovers of 80s cinema and those who get all nostalgic about having seen the film upon its original release. I remember my mom taking me to see it and despite not having any monsters in it, the flick clicked with me just the same. With its origins based in Richard Matheson's novel, 'The Shrinking Man' (already adapted for 1957s THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN), mad scientists and the golden age mainstay of a hairy ape creature (in this case, a kindly, intelligent gorilla proficient in sign language) there's quite a few laughs to be had by the young and the young at heart.


    This moderately successful comedic film starring one of the best female comedians was a television mainstay for a time before falling into relative obscurity. It had recently been released in an apparently unauthorized foreign release till Universal finally got it together and released the film as part of their own On Demand DVD-R service. While it's not technically an "official" release, at least it's out there. The film has also been enjoying steady airplay on numerous HD channels for quite a while now.


    Lily Tomlin goes all out in making Kramer a likable character in her depiction of a woman trying to keep her sanity at home amidst her lovably raucous kids, a dog and an excitable Hispanic maid. Meanwhile, her advertising husband brings home the bread. Whether it was intended or not, there's a lot of social subtext on parade within the comedic parameters set down by writer Jane Wagner. The 1980s woman is satirized here as is America's preoccupation with consumerism (a concept translated in a far more gruesome fashion in George Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD in 1978); the latter of which would grow to decadent heights once Ronald Reagan successfully pulled America out of the economic muck that former President Jimmy Carter had placed the country in.


    Tomlin also manages to pull multiple duties here as a few different characters. One of which is Judith Beasley, Pat's closest friend and head of their neighborhoods community group. Judith provides a number of the funniest moments with her sternly domineering delivery. Tomlin also throws in a cameo as one of her most famous characters from the TV show LAUGH IN (1968-1973), the obnoxious, squinty eyed, nose snorting telephone operator, Ernestine. She also had a brief scene as little Edith Ann (another classic comedy character of hers) that wasn't part of the theatrical release, but utilized in television airings of the film.



    While the movie playfully makes light of the Women of the Tupperware Party Era, it also manages to spoof the dead serious 1957 B/W science fiction classic, the aforementioned THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN. Some of the scenes from that earlier picture are restructured here to fit the films comical slant, but the tip of the hat to Jack Arnold's original is clearly in evidence. Also, whereas atomic testing was a major concern in 50s society, by the time the 80s rolled around, such issues became less serious than the slew of new products that were voraciously flooding store shelves across the country. As per their respective time periods, a mysterious atomic cloud was responsible for shrinking Grant Williams and in this version, it's a combination of assorted household items set off by a side effect from a new perfume created by Pat's husband's corporation.


    Just like the perils encountered by our shrunken hero in the '57 flick, Tomlin finds herself in a number of far sillier predicaments such as falling into a garbage disposal, assaulted by battery operated toys, chased by a dog and catapulted off of her bed. The film turns semi serious once the Kleinman Institute For the Study of Unexplained Phenomena hatches a plan to use Pat's blood to bring the planets population down to minuscule size. Carted away to a secret laboratory, Pat befriends a bumbling janitor named Rob (played by Mark Blankfield, the star of JEKYLL & HYDE...TOGETHER AGAIN) and a lovable gorilla (played by ace ape designer, Rick Baker).


    Among the other cast and befitting of the consumer-product placement nature of the production, is Dick Wilson as a grouchy supermarket manager. Folks will likely remember him for uttering the immortal line, "Don't squeeze the Charmin" on many commercials advertising the line of toilet paper. The busty Sally Kirkland of a few Roger Corman spectaculars plays a cashier. Mike Douglas, former talk show host and entertainer is on hand playing himself and singing the timely tune, 'Little Things Mean A Lot'. Henry Gibson (THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, THE BLUES BROTHERS) is suitably gloomy as the main antagonist even though he isn't given a whole lot to do. Charles Grodin (THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER, MIDNIGHT RUN) and Ned Beatty (DELIVERANCE, SUPERMAN) round out the cast of familiar faces.


    This is the sort of comedy you can watch with the whole family. Fans of 50s science fiction will want to give this one a spin as well as lovers of 80s cinema. Definitely dated by that decade and representative of much of its memorable iconography, this is an unusually delightful, low key tour de force for Lily Tomlin. The box office may have shrank when compared to the gigantic success of Tomlin's previous years 9 TO 5 (1980), but the entertainment value is anything but diminutive.


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  • Hi, I'm Brian Bankston. When I'm not writing for my blog, www.coolasscinema...

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