“My Boyfriend’s Back” (1993): Absurdist Comedy Done Wrong (Review)

In honor of the passing of one of the all-time great actors Philip Seymour Hoffman, CineKatz has allocated part of the month of February for retro-reviews celebrating his long and illustrious career.

My Boyfriend’s Back was made in 1993 and has one of those premises that are so ridiculous it’s hard not to be at least a little (morbidly) curious. It’s about a guy named Johnny Dingle who dies and then comes back from the dead just so he can go to the prom with the girl he loves!

But as silly as this premise is it turns out the movie is even more ridiculous than you’d think.

It’s not just that it deals with teenage death in a very casual manner, it’s also that our hero returns from the dead for a girl he’s not even in a relationship with, she’s got a boyfriend! But of course that boyfriend is a total douche and our hero has to save the girl from this dirtbag. The boyfriend’s name is Buck and he’s got a best friend named Chuck, who’s played by none other than a young Philip Seymour Hoffman! But we’ll get to him a little later.

My Boyfriend’s Back is very much a relic from the 90s. Director Bob Balaban, who’s mostly known as an actor from such films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Waiting for Guffman and many others, seems to be have tried to make some sort of Tim Burton meets John Waters type of film here as there’s a touch of the gothic as well a lot of absurdly morbid humor, a lot of in very bad taste. It can sort of be described as a cross between Weekend at Bernie’s and Beetlejuice with a touch of Cry Baby, in terms of the style and humor it’s trying to emulate.

But judging from this film it seems Balaban is as bad a director as he is good an actor. The film is a complete tonal mess with scenes jumping very uneasily from bad-taste humor to heightened emotion in the same scene and all of it hangs very badly together. Some of it is simply too absurd to work while most of it isn’t absurd enough. It’s as if Balaban couldn’t decide what kind of movie he was trying to make so just made several kinds of movies. And the music score only makes things worse as it’s way too exaggerated and rarely fits what’s happening on screen, it’s as extremely 90s as it gets and simply all over the place.

It also doesn’t help that the two leads, Andrew Lowery and Traci Lind, have little in the way of charm or acting ability and it’s no wonder both have done nothing of note since this movie came out.

On the other hand this movie does have a decent supporting cast which singlehandedly manages to save the movie from being a total catastrophe. Sadly, Hoffman gets stuck with an absurd character and is only onscreen for about five minutes. He behaves like some sort of primate the whole time, with his mouth hanging and always slouching, and sports a ludicrous Texan accent. He’s clearly trying to do something different and can at least get the honor of being cinema’s weirdest bully. But hey, he was young and needed the money.

But then we also have a bunch of character actors like Edward Herrman, Mary Beth Hurt, Jay O. Sanders, Paul Dooley, Austin Pendleton and Cloris Leachman. All wonderful actors who get stuck with lousy material but do all they can to elevate it. It’s also worth noting that this is also Matthew McConaughey’s film debut, but blink and you’ll miss him.

The sheer weirdness of the whole ordeal does give it a little value, among the highlights is Johnny’s funeral, where his father nonchalantly says “Be nice to God” as the coffin is lowered into the ground (he doesn’t seem that sad that his son is dead) and the bit where he bicycles over his neighbors flowerbed for no reason (he’s actually kind of a douche, even his best friend says “He’s a dick…but I like him”). And when Johnny comes back from the dead everyone is weirdly calm about it, his teacher even scolding him for showing up late in class! Bad as this movie is all the bizarre stuff means it not completely forgettable, at least it’s (sort of) trying to be different!

But otherwise My Boyfriend’s Back is a lame relic from the 90’s and not something Phillip Seymour Hoffman could have been proud to have on his resume, but we all have to start somewhere.

The Good: A lively supporting cast full of solid character actors, though they’re still all far from their best.

The Bad: Pretty much everything else.

The Hoffman: One of PSH’s weirdest performances, as if he knew how bad this movie was and decided to be as silly as he could.

Overall: 3.2/10

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Written By Atli

Atli is a film geek from Iceland who dreams of being a great film director, but until then he’s going to criticize the works of other film directors, great and not-so-great alike. His favorite actor is Sam Rockwell and his favorite directors are (among others) Robert Altman, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Billy Wilder, Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick. Atli also loves pizza, travelling and reading good books.

  • Nick

    Disagree… I loved this movie as a kid, and I rewatched it recently (before the passing of PSH) and found it to still be hilarious. We also recently reviewed this for our site (not long before PSH passed away, strangely enough). While Jason (who reviewed it) didn’t love it like I did, he still liked it. I think this movie is great fun, and its tone has nearly everything to do with that.

  • http://www.cinekatz.com/ Nick Powell

    I haven’t seen it so I can’t say who I’d agree with lol. You can post Jason’s link in here as well, Nick, if you’d like.

  • Atli Sigurjónsson

    The fact that you first saw it as a kid may have something to do with you liking it, I tend to be forgiving to some childhood faves myself. I found the films tone to be far too grating and messy. It’s not a bad idea but the bad direction and charmless leads just sink it for me. I really wanted to like it! But, alas…

  • Nick

    I actually don’t think it has anything to do with me liking it as a kid. I’ve watched plenty of nostalgic films and came out wondering what the hell I was thinking as a kid. Like, some REALLY bad ones. I can tend to remove the nostalgia goggles on most childhood films.

    And because Powell gave me permission, here’s Jason’s review: http://www.yourfaceisa.com/100-challenge-my-boyfriends-back/

  • Atli Sigurjónsson

    Different strokes, man. This reviews mentions IDLE HANDS, another movie I hated and though squandered a perfectly good idea with lame execution. I think someone should remake both films, someone who knows how to maintain the right tone and be genuinely funny rather than just coasting on general silliness…

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