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7 April, 2009 / Erik

Best of Yakmala: The Hand the Rocks the Cradle

I’ve saved this for last because it’s a rarity in the Yakmala canon: it’s well-made. Curtis Hanson is a very fine director. His L.A. Confidential is one of the best adaptations of a book made in the last twenty years. People speak fondly of The River Wild, Wonder Boys, and even 8 Mile. He’s quite good at directing.

hand_that_rocks_the_cradle1The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is a bad film in spite of the talent at the helm.

Plot: Mother to be Claire Bartel goes to a new OB/GYN, Dr. Mott. Mott turns out to be a bit of a perv and after he “examines” her, she has an asthma attack. Discussing the incident with her caring husband Micheal (Matt McCoy), she decides to report Dr. Mott to the proper authorities. This creates a cascade of other women complaining about Mott’s bed-side manner. (Oh, the Puns!) Mott, fearing the worst, shoots himself in his fancy post-modern home. Claire presumably finds another OB/GYN without Mott’s proclivities because she has a rather uneventful pregnancy from that point on.

But Mott’s wife (Rebecca De Mornay) goes through some hell. All of her late husband’s assets are frozen and she miscarries around a gaggle of lawyers. That’s right, a gaggle. Due to complications during the miscarriage, she can never carry another child to term. Distraught and withdrawn, Mrs. Mott decides to take revenge of the woman who began all of this: Claire Bartel.

Because, y’know, Mrs. Mott didn’t have a problem with the good doctor “examining” other women.

wi_hand_cradle_070822_sshFLASH FOWARD A COUPLE OF MONTHS! Claire has had her baby and the family is enjoying an early spring with help from Magical Retard Solomon (Ernie Hudson in another thankless role). Claire takes on several volunteer jobs, so Michael suggests they hire on a nanny to take care of the baby and their older daughter Emma (Madeline Zima). Enter Peyton Flanders. She tells Claire she lost her husband and unborn child within a few days of each other and, consequentally can no longer have children — hey! That’s Mrs. Mott!

So Peyton (I assume Mrs. Mott’s first name is actually Peyton. The film gives us no reason to think otherwise) moves in and begins to slowly take over the mommy duties of the house. I don’t just mean clean clothes and stuff. She starts breastfeeding the newborn.

Thus begins a series of incidents, upsets, and disasters orchestrated by Peyton to isolate Claire from the rest of the family. Peyton’s ultimate aim is to replace Claire. As far revenge plans go, it’s pretty brilliant.

Oops, Solomon catches Peyton breastfeeding the baby. Peyton engineers it so it looks like he’s been bad-touching Emma.

Oops, Michael’s old friend Marlene (Julianne Moore) figures out Peyton’s identity. Peyton makes an entire greenhouse fall on her.

RR023307Peyton manages to get Claire out of the house for a few days and tries to seduce Micheal, but when you remember that she’s Wally George’s daughter, De Mornay’s attractiveness vacilates at 120MHz. Micheal resists. Claire returns, discovers Peyton’s identity and promtly smacks that would be homewrecker on the nose; like a man.

As my friend Justin said ages ago, Peyton goes cuckoo bananas. You can probably guess how the movie ends.

The film’s ultimately failure is the lack of likeable characters. Except for noticing the way Dr. Mott touched her, Claire is incredibly blind to all the things going on. She never asks the right questions and behaves stupidly because the plot demands it. Micheal is similar. The movie never really does anything to endear them to us. In a rare clothed-role, Julianne Moore’s Marlene is nothing but bitch, bitch, bitch. From this movie, you’d never think Moore would do any better but Fox Movies of the week. Even Ernie Hudson, who is generally charming, comes off poorly thanks to the magical shoehorn role that is Solomon.

solomonAs Justin pointed out a few years ago, the only smart, likeable character is Emma. This five year old seems to be swayed by Peyton, but pretty quickly picks up on Mrs. Mott’s switch to Crazy at the film’s climax. Emma goes into horror movie survivor mode at that point and is ten times more heroic than Claire.

At least the movie never actively wants us to root for Peyton.

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is a thriller without a central protagonist. And without a character you want to see survive or defeat her adversary, what is a thriller? The movie gives us so little to root for, that it collapses under its own weight. Ably directed by Curtis Hanson, the film is a victim of its own story and a lot of the crude perceptions floating around in 1992.

It misses its intended mark, and while not a production disaster like The Room, it enters the realm of Yakmala.



Leave a Comment
  1. davidsandey / Apr 8 2009 9:23 am

    I remember this. The only thing I remember about it is the experience of seeing it is that the Peyton’s attempt to kill Claire via an asthma attack scared the heck out of me, as an asthamatic. Other than that…lame….

  2. redqueenar / Apr 13 2009 11:57 am


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