Stuart Saves His Family
Smalley (Al Franken, who created Stuart and also wrote the screenplay) works as a waiter and has his own public access television show, the aforementioned Daily Affirmation. The show is for people with emotional problems, and features various 12-step epigrams like "It's easier to put on slippers than to carpet the entire world." Smalley helps his viewers by relating anecdotes about his twisted life and family, but his own life is thrown into further disarray when the surly program manager cancels his show. Being emotionally fragile, Stuart retreats into his apartment, where he is unlikely to come out until he runs out of Fig Newtons.
Although Stuart's four different 12-step group sponsors try to pull him out of his depression, what gets him going is the news that his favorite aunt has died. Thus begins a series of returns from Chicago to Minnesota, where his extremely dysfunctional family lives. With each crisis and return trip, Stuart's family sinks deeper and deeper into their dysfunctional lives, despite Stuart's efforts to help them.
For the most part, Stuart Saves His Family is a much better effort than a majority of the other Saturday Night Live spin-offs. Unlike Coneheads and It's Pat, the extension of Smalley into a real character works fairly well. The unfortunate part is that the overall story is pretty depressing. Stuart's dysfunction and family life are far too real for a character out of SNL, and people expecting a madcap comedy won't be rewarded.
There are, however, a few scenes which actually work. When Stuart's show is picked up by a cable network, he brings on a guest who is even more emotionally uptight than he is (she's the secretary of the surly public access program manager), played by Julia Sweeney (Pat of It's Pat). The resulting scene, which features Smalley trying to get his guest to unwind and say positive things about herself, is hilarious.
Most of Stuart's show segments are worth watching as well, which shouldn't be surprising as they are the essential material upon which the Smalley character was based in the first place. With the supporting background material about Stuart's family, though, they take on a more sincere tone, and it's easier to sympathize with Stuart and feel some affection towards him. Franken obviously put his heart and soul into this film, which we respect, even if we didn't find the film as funny as it obviously wanted to be.
With films like this, one can almost see director Harold Ramis being funny again. He's fallen into a pretty sad rut as of late, making films that are as unfunny as they are sappy, like Multiplicity. It's been a while since he's turned out anything as good as Animal House or Ghostbusters, although he saves himself from absolute ruin every few years with movies like Groundhog Day and Stuart Saves His Family, which are detestably sappy but manage to be amusing nonetheless.
Review date: 4/16/97
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