DVD Review: Firstborn

STUDIO: Olive Films | DIRECTOR: Michael Apted | CAST: Teri Garr, Peter Weller, Christopher Collet, Corey Haim, Sarah Jessica Parker, Robert Downey Jr.
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 7/31/2012 | PRICE: DVD $24.95, Blu-ray $29.95
SPECS: PG-13 | 103 min. | Drama thriller | 1.85:1 widescreen | stereo

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall


The 1984 film Firstborn, a domestic drama with climactic thriller elements directed by England’s Michael Apted, is an early entry in the era’s cycle of American suburban families in distress movies that included Fatal Attraction (1987), Pacific Heights (1990), The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), as well as The Stepfather (1987) and its 1989 sequel.

Mom’s new beau Peter Weller (ctr.) meets Christopher Collet (l.) and Corey Haim in Firstborn

Firstborn centers on perky suburban divorcee Wendy (Teri Garr, Tootsie) and her two sons, teenager Jake (Christopher Collet, The Manhattan Project) and grade schooler Brian (Corey Haim, Trade In), whose benign home life is shaken up and then menaced by the arrival of Wendy’s shady new live-in boyfriend, Sam (Peter Weller, Robocop). Though he tries to ingratiate himself on the boys early on by showering them with gifts and enthusiasm, Sam is revealed to be, in Jake’s words, “a loser and a deadbeat,” with a penchant for booze, drugs, lying about watching TV and siphoning off Wendy’s savings for suspicious business opportunities. As Wendy quickly spirals into a life of daily cocaine use and equally frequent fights with her new beau, 16-year-old Jake quickly takes on the adult responsibility of saving his family by dangerously confronting Sam to show his mother that her man isn’t what he says he is.

Ever-versatile director Apted (whose 1980s output ranges from the Loretta Lynn bio-pic Coal Miner’s Daughter to the dramedy Continental Divide to the  great British 7UP documentary series) hits all the right notes in his depiction of Americana suburbs circa 1984, with its barbecues, local restaurants, school rituals and social events. He similarly elicits solid, realistic performances from his cast, particularly Weller, who channels an evil version of his piercing, denim-clad heartthrob from 1982’s Shoot the Moon. Of the younger actors, Chris Collet is steady and true–keep an eye out for a later scene where he demands that his mom “act like a mother.” Young Sarah Jessica Parker (I Don’t Know How She Does It)  is spirited as his Collet’s girlfriend, like a friendly Carrie Bradshaw minus the sarcasm.

It’s only the final act that rings false with the inclusion of an out-of-place chase across the neighborhood and a violent fight in the family living room. The filmmakers (or studio!) may have felt that the action and thrills were necessary for a clean wrap-up, but in this case, it undercuts the power of a drama that’s sadly been playing out in American households for years.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.