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Monday, January 7, 2013


Dutch, directed by Peter Faiman, is an underrated film that is at both incredibly funny and shines with subtle dramatic moments. It was written by John Hughes, and bombed upon its release in 1991. Most likely because it has similarities to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, with a mismatched pair on the road home, running into obstacles that derail their transportation, meeting odd folks along the way, and coming to a mutual respect and understanding towards the end. But what makes it stand out is not only John Hughes' touch for small human moments that ring true to life, but Ed O'Neill's performance as an average working-class Joe, developing further beyond his Al Bundy typecasting at the time. It is also noted that Ethan Embry, then child actor Ethan Randall, showed a lot of acting talent in subtle mood changes that can be easily missed.

The film centers on Dutch (O'Neill), a successful working-class man whose girlfriend's ex-husband is a rich and callous man named Reed (Christopher McDonald, playing a jerk as always). He uses his wealth to screw over his ex-wife Natalie (JoBeth Williams) and his son Doyle (Ethan Embry), an pretentious, condescending prep school brat who has been raised to look down on lower-class people, the type who "was born on third and thinks he hit a triple," as Ann Richards once said about George W. Bush. It is clear that Natalie chose Dutch because he is not only a self-made man who retains his humbleness, but that he isn't afraid of anybody, telling Reed that "you hurt her and I'll hit you so fucking hard your dog will bleed, okay?", ending with a polite smile and Reed looking like he soiled himself.

Because Reed breaks a promise to take Doyle home from Georgia to his mother's house in Chicago for Thanksgiving, Dutch stands up and takes on the task. And Dutch, despite literally taking hits and kicks from Doyle upon arrival, just waves it off, because it isn't worth getting into an argument with a child. He just carries Doyle off, bound and gagged, away in the car, because, as he tells Doyle later, "he doesn't take any crap from kiddies."

Ethan Embry played Doyle like an awful brat, truly heinous, and pulling off some reprehensible acts that rightly nearly gets his ass kicked by Dutch. Yet his acting was more impressive whenever he showed conflicting emotions, torn between enjoying a moment with Dutch and wanting to keep his stubborn front up. For example, Dutch tells Doyle of his parents, a bricklayer and a seamstress, who worked labor jobs to keep the family afloat and strong. Doyle responds sarcastically with, "You must be very proud." Dutch answers sincerely, "I am." Doyle gets this look on his face where it's a combination of respect, for Dutch being proud of his working-class parents, and guilt, because his own father isn't anything to be proud of. It is a very brief moment, but it showed a lot of talent at a young age to play between those emotions at once.

Similarly, there is a scene where Dutch buys a whole mess of fireworks and sets them off to raise Doyle's spirits and have fun with him. While Dutch is outside shooting them off, Doyle remains in the car, refusing to join in the fun. Dutch isn't bothered by this, having his own fun with the fireworks. Doyle goes through mixed emotions as Dutch is playing with the fireworks, both wanting to have fun and be a kid, but also keep up his dislike of Dutch as not to let him "win." It's another example of Embry's talent as a child actor, showing more depth and innocence beyond the spoiled brat persona that Doyle carries like a shield.

There is something particularly special about this film. Even if it is predictable, it's incredibly enjoyable to watch. As mentioned, it's John Hughes' awareness of the little truths in life that makes things funny, as well as having developed characters who are more than their initial appearances. It's the quirks of being on the road, and connecting with people in brief moments, like a night spent in a homeless shelter, hitching a ride with two call girls, or ordering from the lunch menu in a sketchy diner.

As well, for all of Doyle's big talk about how his rich father will sue Dutch for "what he did to him," to telling him he "screams working class," Dutch can intimidate and scare Doyle into submission, just by stating simple truths that shut him up real fast. Like that he's lived longer and harder than Doyle ever has, that he never screwed over anyone to make money, and that Doyle is nothing but a speck to him, no matter how big he tries to act. It's really great to watch a film where the child doesn't keep out-smarting the adult, and is put in their place time and again. I never liked TV shows and movies where children acted like smart-mouth brats to their parents and got away with it, because I not only thought it was rude, but that I knew I'd never get away with acts like that. And Dutch shows a more realistic side of what happens when a child tries to talk big to an adult.

I am happy to see that Ed O'Neill has had a successful TV comeback with Modern Family, and is being appreciated for his talent beyond the Al Bundy character for which he became famous. And while Ethan Embry's career as an adult has been hit or miss, I recommend an episode of Masters of Horror, Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, where he plays a survivalist husband who keeps forcing his wife to learn how to use weapons and defend herself, creepily obsessed with the idea that she will have to fight someone someday and save her own life. It is a disturbing episode, but his acting is strong in it. I recommend seeing Dutch, and enjoying a road movie that was just one of many of John Hughes' talented screenplays.

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