'Helicopter Mom': Film Review

Despite some sensitively observed moments, this borderline offensive gay-themed comedy too often traffics in stereotypes

Nia Vardalos ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding") plays an overbearing mother pushing her sexually confused teenage son into a gay lifestyle in Salome Breziner's comedy.

Attempting to make an overbearing character endearing is a tricky proposition, and it’s one that Nia Vardalos fails miserably at in Helicopter Mom, Salome Breziner’s well-meaning but ill-conceived comedy that recently received its world premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival. Playing the titular role of a mother who tries to steamroll her sexually confused teenage son into adopting a gay lifestyle, the My Big Fat Greek Wedding star quickly wears out her welcome.

Financially pressed single mom Maggie (Vardalos) has some reason to wonder about her 17-year-old son Lloyd’s (Jason Dolley) sexual identity. A poetry-writing, sensitive type who hasn’t had a relationship despite being avidly pursued by the girls at his high school, especially comely blonde cheerleader Carrie (Skyler Samuels), Lloyd finds himself attracted to both sexes.

But that doesn’t stop the manically driven Maggie from assuming that he’s gay and even attempting to set him up with various male suitors. Showing no sense of boundaries, she even manages to get herself arrested when she loudly berates some hecklers at an arts festival where her son is reciting poetry.

Even worse, she takes it upon herself to surreptitiously submit an application for him for a gay student college scholarship, forcing her horrified son to play along with the deceit.

The resulting farcical, sitcom-style complications fuel the proceedings, with Lloyd becoming increasingly aggrieved at his mother’s endless manipulations while quietly wrestling with his own sense of identity. Things come to a head when Maggie bursts into the senior prom, to which Lloyd’s invited the beautiful Carrie, and attempts to sabotage the relationship.

Although mostly silly and at times borderline offensive, Duke Tran’s screenplay does have its sensitive aspects, most notably in the depiction of Lloyd’s relationship with his former-hippie dad, Max. Mark Boone Junior (Sons of Anarchy) brings a wonderfully droll, understated humor to a role that could easily have been played for caricature, with the result that Max’s heartfelt conversations with his sexually confused son are the highlights of the film.

Unfortunately, Vardalos dominates the proceedings for long stretches at a time, and despite Maggie’s obvious adoration for her son the character proves far more grating than sympathetic. She’s somewhat balanced by Dolley, who delivers a sensitive, appealing turn as the beleaguered Lloyd.

Shot largely in Venice, Calif., the film does offer some scenic locations. Among those in the supporting cast are Kate Flannery (The Office) and pop singer Lisa Loeb, with the latter also contributing several songs to the soundtrack.

Production: American Film Productions
Cast: Nia Vardalos, Jason Dolley, Mark Boone Junior, Kate Flannery, Scott Shilstone, Skyler Samuels
Director: Salome Breziner
Screenwriter: Duke Tran
Producers: Salome Breziner, Josh Cole, Stephen Israel, J.M.R. Luna
Executive producers: Derek Tran, George Voskericyan, Larry Wong
Director of photography: Chris Squires
Editors: Jacob Chase, Richard Halsey
Production designer: Anthony Stabley
Composer: Jeff Cardoni

No rating, 83 minutes