The slept on hit of this year came early in January with the wide release of Brian Taylor’s Mom And Dad, starring Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair. Parents get zapped by a mysterious signal and, blammo! Their innate desire to preserve their children’s lives at all costs is reversed. So many kids get gleefully murderized! Yet, there’s a magic to the work that elevates the film from joyously exploitative to something remarkably thoughtful. That’s due entirely to the fine performances from Cage and Blair, working their hearts out in some key sequences. In fact, this movie features what is truly the Maximum Cage performance everyone should be gaga over! Cage kills a pool table and talks about life. And Blair responds by ruminating on the sacrifices of motherhood. And it is fucking legit.
Before we get into Mom and Dad, let’s do some quick background on the performance everyone dug so much. The current consensus is that this year’s Maximum Cage is the epic bathroom meltdown in Panos Cosmatos’ fantasy-revenge flick Mandy. That flick is utterly unique and weird and beautiful. And that scene is worthy of the love it has received.
Cage showed up and gave one of those career-best performances as Red Miller. He crushed it. And that one dude’s head. The movie ends with a blood covered, glee-filled mugging from Cage that makes for the perfect denouement. Something only Cage could sell.
That bathroom scene really is something special. After being forced to watch the violent murder of his partner, Miller drags himself into his house. He strips down to his whitey-tighties, chugs some vodka, and lets out some emotions on the commode. And, you know what? Cage is phenomenal. His choices are bold, all him, and perfectly soul-baring.
Don’t get this piece twisted. I’m not trying to take anything away from that performance. This is what I’m here to tell you. Cage’s work in Mom and Dad is basically a whole movie’s worth of Mandy bathroom-level performance.
You’ll know Taylor from his previous work teamed up with Mark Neveldine for their delightfully violent and indecorous Crank films. They are straight up masterpieces of exploitative entertainment designed to put an inappropriate smile on your face as you watch Jason Statham murder the holy fuck out of, like, everyone. What I’m trying to convey is that they have a distinct feel.
Taylor went solo, both writing and directing, for Mom And Dad. His film maintains that same impish appreciation for wanton acts of mayhem. Along with that, he has crafted some remarkably nuanced roles for Cage and Blair as mid-life crisis parents Brent and Kendall.
While the movie is very much in the spirit of his past work, Taylor nails the crisis of parenthood. Well, think of it more like he anthropomorphized parenthood and then killed it so he could stick it on the forensic pathologist’s slab. How else to cut it open and see how all the parts work? Parents murdering their kids may be played for dark hearted guffaws, but there’s some legit pathos to mine in these characters.
As a parent, I don’t often feel seen at the movies. We make sacrifices for our children. Those sacrifices are huge, altruistic, and occasionally fucking soul crushing. You’ll suck up the hate for jobs which are only vaguely financially rewarding in order to provide a softer life for your kids. Your identity as an autonomous human? Gone. The old you is dead. Shoot, you can’t even make simple decisions in life like you did before you had kids. Want to screw off for the evening and go out to the movies? Good luck finding a no-notice babysitter that makes less an hour than you do!
Yet, at the same exact time, all of it is out of love. That soul-deep, abiding type of love. The discordant feelings are unnerving. I’m not saying I’ve ever resented my kids. Because parents aren’t allowed to make that type of confession. Or, at least not ones who don’t want to be branded Bad Parents. There’s something terrifying you have to consider as a parent. What does everyone else think about your choices?
During Mom And Dad, I felt seen. Taylor used an original take on a type of zombie outbreak to explore some deep truths to parenthood. These are the types of emotions we see Brent and Kendall working through. This put a huge burden on Cage and Blair to find and exploit the emotional hinges for their characters in each scene. In fact, the way the outbreak works makes it even trickier for them as the only thing truly affected is the reversing of their desire to protect their kids at all costs.
In any given scene, the actors might go from planning and attempting murder to discussing more normal things in their regular lives. Taylor includes a news segment featuring an interview with an affected parent who simultaneously is upset about the other murders and proud of his own success at killing his child. That’s an insane sentence to write. Imagine pitching that to your actors and then working with them to tease out believable nuance!
Scene after scene, Cage and Blair make terrific nuanced choices to hammer home those beats. That approach of mixing and matching comes to a head when Brent and Kendall return home to check on their kids, only to suddenly snap and make a dash to murder them. Their children wind up hiding in the locked basement with the family gun to deter the parents.
Taylor gives us a flashback to their young son finding the gun and playing with it in a totally bonkers sequence. It is profoundly upsetting. As the parents try to cut their way into the locked door, the son fires the handgun at his parents. It’s a really great exchange. Kendall chides Brent about his midlife crisis acquisition. Sure, they’ve embraced filicide. But, we learn that they are still present enough to know that getting shot is bad for your health.
As the kids take in their surroundings in the semi-unfinished basement, they see a destroyed pool table. This takes us on a flashback to the scene that will make or break the movie. This is the essential pivot that will define the movie as either a black comedy telling some very real parenting truths or a fun exploitation joint.
Brent is accepting delivery of a disassembled pool table. Cue the 80s punk band Reagan Youth. As their song “Urban Savages” blasts, he meticulously, lovingly assembles and levels this felt covered granite slate. Yet, every time he rolls a pool ball down the table, it curves to the side. Right as he thinks he has it figured out, Kendall chimes in from the stairs: “Wow! You were going to tell me about this at some point?”
They argue about money and man caves and communication. A sense of pure unadulterated resentment permeates every aspect of the exchange. Maybe there should be boundaries in their house, he argues. Because the kids are ruining everything! Brent loses his temper, grabs a sledgehammer, and destroys his foolish attempt at recapturing his youth.
“That guy in a million years could never have pictured this tired motherfucker he turned out to be!”
The violence, even if only at a pool table, is real. It scares Kendall, but she doesn’t move from the stairs. Brent segues into a monologue about the tired old motherfucker he turned out to be and how utterly surprising that outcome would have been to his sex-obsessed, energetic younger self. As he starts to come to terms with the fact that he’s really mad at how quickly life passes you by, he asks Kendall if she has any idea what he means.
Kendall shares her experience as a woman, knowing that if she wants to be a parent, everything that she does will lead to something she has been led to believe will be a magical, life-altering moment. But, when it happens, it’s nothing like expectations. It’s hard to describe how great the writing is in this back and forth. Here’s the script, picking up where Kendall is describing her experience with childbirth:
Kendall: Maybe it’s intense. It’s fucking batshit. But, it isn’t… it. Anyways. It is what it is. It’s just something that happens. And then it’s –
Brent: And then it’s over.
Brent: I know this is the way things are supposed to be. I know we’re doing it right. It’s just to get my head around, you know? I mean, I used to be Brent. And you used to be Kendall. And now we’re just… Mom. And Dad.
This scene isn’t about pivoting wildly between murder and family life. Cage and Blair are asked to portray a married couple struggling with their relationship, their finances, and their roles as parents as they try to remember who they are outside of their titles of mom and dad. It’s a scary thing to realize you’ve lost yourself in your pursuit of the all-American family dream.
This is the scene where I knew Brian Taylor captured the heart of the existential crisis that is parenthood. Constantly barraged with the experience of youth as we wither into older, fartier versions of ourselves. The truth reveals itself. It’s just something that happens, and then it’s over.
The scene wouldn’t work without the A-level work of our stars. When Cage goes big and loses his temper, he smashes a pool ball into the table. It’s an act of violence, not directed at anyone, but still scary. It frightens Kendall. Blair shows us that by looking away, but she also doesn’t retreat. It’s choices like that which bring home the reality of the exchange. And, totally deflated after his great outburst, Cage pivots to seeking a connection with his wife. And she reciprocates!
The scene and its successful portrayal are absolutely essential to the overall success of the movie. If they mess up the delivery or don’t fully explore their characters, Mom And Dad becomes another exploitation jaunt showcasing some shocking murders. However, because they nailed this exchange we know that despite their marital disconnect, they absolutely love their kids. They believe in what they’re doing as parents. And they want to succeed.
This is what brings the horror to the movie. Murderers are made out of genuine, broken but messy parents who love their kids. But only for their kids.
Cage’s acting in Mom and Dad – choice for choice – is more complex than what he is asked to do in Mandy. He also works in tandem with Blair versus his largely silent, solo work in Cosmatos’ film. And they both carry that manic energy through the entirety of the film.
For these reasons, I submit to you that Mom and Dad is actually the Maximum Cage performance of the year.