(Originally posted May 10, 2009; John Goodman continues to be awesome to this day.)
This is not a movie review, but I watched Speed Racer with my family the other day. I have never seen the cartoon it is based upon, nor, to the best of my knowledge, have any of my friends. The extent of my Speed Racer experience was limited to hearing the theme song on the "Saturday Morning Heroes" CD at Games Workshop and seeing it mocked on "Robot Chicken". Needless to say, I wasn't expecting much.
Which was good, because I didn't get a lot either. Don't get me wrong, I see what they were shooting for, and it was a very clever homage to innocence and simpler times, despite its theme of corruption and intoxicating over-the-top visuals, and it was fun. Seriously though; I have never dropped acid, but if I did, I hope it would be as deliriously colourful and creatively realized as some of the scenes in this movie. But just past the middle of the film, I'll be damned if John Goodman (who can't redeem every movie he's in, but you can see him hefting like Atlas every time without fail) doesn't go and drop in one of the best parent speeches I've seen in a long time.
Speed is leaving home against his father's wishes. When we see his brother Rex doing the same thing years earlier, to work for another racing team, Pops Racer (Goodman) tells him, "If you go out that door, don't bother coming back." When Rex dies in a suspicious crash a short time later, it's a pretty bad scene at the Racer household, with super-size servings of guilt and misplaced feelings of responsibility. Speed's departure is shot in the exact same way as his brother's, so you are waiting for the inevitable replay. And it doesn't happen.
"I didn't lose Rex when he crashed," Pops confesses, "I lost him here. I let him think that a stupid motor company meant more to me than he did. You'll never know how much I regret that mistake. It's enough I'll never make it again. Speed, I understand that every child has to leave home. But I want you to know, that door is always open. You can always come back. 'Cause I love you."
Out of a lot of other mouths, these words drop to the floor like lead weights, but not Goodman. He plays the melodrama straight, no chaser, and it works. And he's not finished:
Pops Racer: I couldn't have been more proud of you, son. Not because you won, but because you stood up, you weren't afraid, and you did what you thought was right.
Speed: It didn't amount to anything. It was completely meaningless.
Pops Racer: How could it be meaningless? I saw my son become a man. I watched a man with courage and integrity drive the pants off of every other driver on that road. This is not meaningless. This is the reason for a father's life.
When a popcorn film based on a ludicrous premise, written by the same guys who brought you the Matrix sequels (and, to be fair, The Matrix) can throw something like this into the mix and make it credible, it's not just a surprise, it's positively staggering.
Whatever my occupation may be at any given time, being a father is the most important job I will ever have, so anytime I catch even a glimmer of a similar sentiment in a medium that typifies most dads as bumbling morons, if not outright selfish ingrates, I sit up and take notice. I certainly wasn't expecting to sit up in Speed Racer. What a pleasant surprise! A dad who has humility enough to recognize a past mistake, honesty enough to admit it, and courage enough to let his son go, with the assurance that he is loved and can always come home. And this is after beating up a ninja, no less. Although there might not be as much competition as I would like, Pops Racer strikes me as one of the great movie dads.
I realize this probably seems a bit incongruous, what with it being Mother's Day and all, but hey, parents, we are all in this together. We had a great Mother's Day here, with my Mom and Dad and sister coming out for brunch and me making mimosas and eggs benedict for everyone and chilling out all afternoon.
I am so grateful for not only my mother, who set a great example for me as a parent, but also my wife, who sets the bar for me now with our own fantastic children. These two women who make me think of something my favourite writer, Andrew Vachss, said once:
"Mother is not what you are, it's what you do."