There has been a lot of bemoaning over the last few years about how Avenger-sized films have destroyed the mid-budget movie. The major studios only seem to make blockbuster hopefuls with sequel and spin-off capabilities. Independent studios make more interesting films but their budgets are small which naturally limits their capabilities. Romantic comedies and thoughtful dramas are few and far between. While watching My Boyfriend’s Back, the Bob Balaban-directed romcom with zombies from 1993, I kept thinking about how this sort of film could never get made today. It is goofy, broadly acted, and strangely bloodless for a film produced by Sean S. “Friday the 13th” Cunningham. It is also more charming than the original, rather scathing, reviews make it out to be.
Johnny (Andrew Lowery) is the stereotypical teen comedy nice guy. He has pined for the popular and pretty girl Missy McCloud (Traci Lind) since they were kids, but he’s never had the nerve to tell her. When she breaks up with her (also stereotypical) jock boyfriend Buck (Matthew Fox in his first-ever film role), Johnny takes that as his cue to ask Missy to the prom. He hatches a ridiculous scheme in which to win her affections - his friend Eddie (Danny Zorn) will pretend to rob the convenience store where Missy works allowing Johnny to save the day and thus become the hero. But when an actual robber busts in before Eddie gets there, Johnny’s heroism earns him a bullet in his chest.
Cue cheesy funeral. Cue Johnny busting out of his grave. Cue Johnny trying to return to his old life. The running gag of the entire film is how non-plussed everybody is that Johnny comes back to life. When he returns home, his father (Edward Herrmann) does a quick double-take but dear old Mom (Mary Beth Hurt) simply offers him something to eat (for they have plenty left over from the funeral). Returning to school the reactions from his teachers and classmates are all deadpanned nonchalance (his teacher notes that he may be a zombie but that is no excuse for tardiness).
Eventually, the townspeople become concerned with his status as the undead, but Missy is somehow more attracted to him than ever. If a boy is willing to die, resurrect and even eat people for you, then they must be pretty good boyfriend material she seems to think. When his ear falls off while Missy is nibbling on it, and his nose flies across the room after a sneeze, Johnny heads over to Maggie’s (Cloris Leachman). house for guidance. Her husband became a zombie many years back you see, so she knows how this thing works. She tells Johnny that his body will continue to decompose unless he regularly eats human flesh, which is nasty work, but what are you gonna do?
Luckily when Buck’s mean friend Chuck (Phillip Seymour Hoffman in one of his earliest film roles) accidentally hits himself instead of Johnny with an axe Johnny has a fresh corpse to chow down on without having to do any murdering himself. Missy is a bit put out to find her new boyfriend gnawing on her old boyfriend’s best bud, but no so much that she isn’t willing to go to the prom with him. Buck’s Dad Big Chuck (Paul Dooley, seriously this film is a gold mine of great character actors and soon to be famous young people) form a gang of pitch-ford wielding adults who storm the Dingle house looking for revenge. Mrs. Dingle, always prepared to defend her son, not only wields a shotgun to stop the mob but offers up Big Chuck’s other son (who is of course named Little Chuck) to Johnny for a snack.
The bare bones of the film could make a really good, pitch-black satire, or a gore-filled gross-out comedy. As it is Balaban has created something so tame it could have been made for the Disney channel circa 1987. The violence is mostly implied with the camera moving away from the gore at just the right moment and the blood is barely apparent. The sex is relegated to some light smooching and a dream sequence in which Missy tries to seduce Johnny into eating her while wearing a bra.
The comedy is broad, the acting even broader and the story is all over the place. It is the type of film my father would love and that my old roommate Rodney (who thought The Man Show was a sophisticated comedy) would enjoy. It was pummeled by critics when it came out and has now been mostly forgotten. I gotta admit though, I kind of liked it. It is not a good movie and I could spend a lot more time pointing out its flaws, but it is so light, so utterly unoffensive, so easy to sit back and let it wash over you, that I can’t hate it. It reminds me of watching television back when we all had cable and streaming was a thing of the future. On a lazy afternoon I’d often find something that wasn’t actually good, but was good enough and allow myself some mild amusement while zoning out. That’s light praise for sure, but a movie like My Boyfriend’s Back can probably take all the praise it can get.
It is exactly the kind of film they don’t make anymore. It isn’t a particular risky or adventurous film, but a mid-budget, quirky comedy with aspirations for cult film stardom that failed without much fanfare or notice. A film that used to fill up afternoon programming on cable television.
Kino Lorber presents My Boyfriend’s Back with a 1080p transfer and a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Extras include an audio commentary with Bob Balaban, Mary Beth Hurt, and Austin Pendleton plus interviews with Balaban, composer Harry Manfredini Austin Pendleton and the usual trailer.