“220, 221. Whatever it takes.”
Some classic movie lines will live forever.
If you don’t know what movie that line is from, then you obviously don’t know that Aug. 19 is the anniversary of the wide release of “Mr. Mom,” the 1983 comedy that basically launched Pittsburgh native Michael Keaton to stardom.
Oh sure, he was brilliant in 1982’s “Night Shift.” But it “Mr. Mom” was his first starring role, and would lead to a ton of other iconic parts: “Batman,” “Beetlejuice,” “Birdman” … wait, he did do movies that started with other letters, didn’t he? Oh, yeah: “Spotlight,” “Clean and Sober,” “Johnny Dangerously.” And plenty more.
“Mr. Mom,” of course, followed the story of Jack Butler, who is laid off from his job and takes over caring for his children while his wife, Caroline, returns to work. While the storyline seems antiquated these days, it’s still a comedy classic.
Because it’s been 36 years since it hit theaters nationwide, we thought we’d just take a moment to consider a few things about the movie.
Yep, that John Hughes. “The Breakfast Club,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Home Alone.” According to “Mr. Mom” producer Lauren Shuler Donner, the story was based on Hughes’ real-life experience when his wife took a trip to Arizona and he was left alone watching his two boys. Hughes told Donner about his situation. “He didn’t know what he was doing. It was hilarious! I was on the floor laughing. He said, ‘Do you think this would make a good movie? And I said, “Yeah, this is really funny.”
With Donner’s encouragement, Hughes completed his 80-page start on the script and the rest is history.
Keaton’s agent at the time, Laurie Perlman, was friends with Donner. Perlman suggested the producer go check out her client in his first film to see how funny he was. Donner told IGN, “I went to see ‘Night Shift,’ and midway through I couldn’t wait to get out of that theater to give ‘Mr. Mom’ to Michael Keaton. Fortunately, he liked it.”
It wasn’t Keaton who came up with the oft-quoted classic. It was Martin Mull.
About the scene, Keaton told Esquire: “I remember saying to the prop guy, ‘Go find me a chain saw.’ When he comes back with it, he says, ‘You wanna wear these?’ And he holds up some goggles. I go, ‘Yeah.’ You know, they make me look crazy. And when (Martin) Martin shows up, I know I should look under control, I’m not sweating it. I’m a dude.
“So we’re standing there, Martin pulls me aside and says, ‘You know what you ought to say? When I ask about the wiring, you oughta just deadpan: ‘220, 221.’ I died. It was perfect. I may have added ‘whatever it takes.’ But it was his.”
While Aug. 19 is the wide release date, “Mr. Mom” actually made its official debut on July 22 in only 126 theaters. It grossed $947,197 that weekend.
A month later, it expanded to 734 screens and pulled in $4,279,384 — good enough for No. 3 that weekend. It was beaten only by “Risky Business” and the No. 1 film that week: “Easy Money.”
The following week, “Mr. Mom” went to No. 1 and stayed there for five weeks. The movie ultimately grossed $64,783,827 and placed No. 9 among all 1983 movies.
Oddly, the movie beat out Hughes other 1983 film: “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”
Just a year later, ABC made a TV movie version of “Mr. Mom,” directed by Terry Hughes (no relation). Barry Van Dyke took on the Jack Butler role, with Rebecca York playing his wife.
The TV version that aired in November 1984 wasn’t very well-received. People magazine’s Jeff Jarvis wrote, “The script lobotomizes all its characters. … Here’s a textbook case in how TV takes a cute idea—and a script that does have some good lines—and leeches the wit out of it.”
Vudu, the streaming service owned by Walmart, is working on a modernized series version of the comedy. This time, it will focus on the Jack Butler’s daughter who is now an adult and dealing with modern parenthood.
“It’s funny and touching — anyone with kids will love it,” says Julian Franco, senior director of Vudu, told AdWeek. “It’s a softball down the middle for us.”