Batteries Not Included (1987)

“This is the ’80s, Mason! Nobody likes reality anymore!”

Sue’s Rating: Holy Jumpin’ Breadboxes, Batman!

Sue’s Review: Picture, if you will, a vast expanse of urban dirt, with herds of bulldozers and backhoes patiently churning up the landscape in expectation of generous applications of concrete and girders. Imagine then, in the center of this grubby wasteland, the oasis of a dilapidated yet occupied restaurant/apartment building. Yup, smack dab in the middle of the building site to end all building sites, there’s one small oasis of a hold-out and nothing gets built until everything gets flattened. No, this isn’t the opening sequence of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Come on in, meet the residents and watch out for that falling plaster.

Faye Riley (Jessica Tandy) is an elderly woman who’s gone so far around the bend that you’d swear she’s come full circle and started a second lap. Her husband Frank (Hume Cronyn) is a frustrated and grieving old man struggling to care for his wander-prone wife while defying the big business mogels and their rent-a-thugs who’re trying to pry him none too gently out of his lifelong home. Tenants “pregnant-but-my-boyfriend-will-be-back-momentarily” Marisa, “talented-but-misunderstood-artist” Mason and the television addicted ex-boxer Harry Noble who only speaks in advertising slogans (few too many right hooks in the cranium, eh buddy?), are vaguely allied with Frank and Faye in their mutual quest not to be dis-lodged, as it were.

As the movie begins, we discover that what envelopes of ready cash won’t accomplish, it seems a baseball bat and applications of gang violence will. After a visit by the unfriendly neighborhood interior redecorating squad, Frank is on the razor edge of calling it quits and retreating to an elderly care facility in the Promised Land of New Jersey. Mason and Marisa have their own problems and Harry is hiding behind his drapes. What dear Faye makes of all the ongoing chaos is fairly unclear, except that she persists in addressing the leader of the baseball bullies (Carlos, a Hispanic gang banger type) as “Bobby” and eventually offers to cook him a ham.

Man, I love Faye.

And so as the sun sets and night falls on the wreckage of their miserable pathetic lives, the sad little story of “civilized” urban warfare would seem to end before it began.

Except that Faye left her window open and two flying saucers invaded the building.

Okay, they aren’t so much your classic beefed up Independence Day spacegoing juggernauts as they are rather charming little airborne hubcaps, but let’s not get too hung up on the semantics here. It’s obvious to the attentive viewer right from the get-go that what we’re dealing with are a boy and a girl hubcap. You can tell because he has glowing red headlights and a craggy yet handsome profile while she’s all aerodynamic curves and big blue blinkers. They locate a nice electrical outlet in the kitchen, she plugs in for a recharge and out of gratitude the two of them repair all the Louisville Slugger fall-out in the building. Then they find a cozy little fixer upper for themselves on the roof and settle in for the long haul.

Faye discovers the new tenants immediately, happily refers to them as “the little guys” and toddles up to the roof every so often to toss them handfuls of nice metallic bread crumbs. Though for once she’s absolutely on target, everyone else in the vicinity thinks it’s time for a little medication adjustment. Well hey, it probably is anyway.

Eventually everyone gets clued in and after the initial (and understandable) freak out, they sort of adopt the little flying fixers. Of course, since it isn’t just every day that undernourished spaceships come along and repair shattered jukeboxes, kicked out doors and smashed religious figurines, there’s some major debate about just who the hubcaps came to rescue. Under the circumstances that’s sort of like comparing sucking chest wounds to see who deserves the last band-aid.

But though the spaceships prove that they can make cheeseburgers and procreate (every man’s dream right there, isn’t it?) there are still those bulldozers, the corporate villains and Bobby — I mean Carlos — and his band of merry men to deal with. Will the building be saved? Will Faye get to make her ham? Can interstellar hubcaps save the day? Well probably not, but you’d have to watch for yourself.

Batteries Not Included is a difficult movie to classify because it seems (much like Faye) to be a little out of touch with itself. Is it a drama? How can it be when you have little flying spaceship thingies bouncing off the walls and stealing toasters? Is it a comedy? How can it be when you see the callous victimization of a helpless elderly couple? What the heck is this? I don’t know!

What I do know is that Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn turned this film into something much better than by rights it should have been. Married in real life for fifty-two years until Tandy’s death, they shared both tremendous acting experience and undeniable chemistry with each other. Watching them co-star in this movie was sort of like finding a sprig of parsley and an after-dinner mint in a bag from a McDonald’s drive-thru. Very nice, undeniably classy, but a little surreal. Tandy particularly delivers her lines with supreme poise and elegance, even when she’s being flakier than the first ten seconds of a dandruff shampoo commercial.

Batteries Not Included is really sort of a neat little gem. I’m not entirely sure why it fell off the radar, but the fact that I couldn’t find a single blessed screencap after a two hour trawl on the Net attests to the fact that it did. Rest assured though, it’s still out there hovering patiently. Open a window and give it a whirl.

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