The Peanut Butter Solution (1985)

Like many of its 80s brethren, The Peanut Butter Solution relies on an atmosphere of freewheeling goofiness, combined with some truly dark, Roald Dahl-style storytelling.  In fact, this movie is so overtly macabre that it could never be marketed as a children’s movie today.  This makes Solution mainly useful as a cinematic time capsule to be dug out of the ground and studied as a relic of its era, a strangely optimistic decade that sat plunk between the dreariness of Watergate and the cultural supernova of the internet.  On that basis, this is a fascinating exercise in nostalgia, much like dredging up a copy of Duck Hunt or a few My Little Pony toys.  Judged on its own merit, The Peanut Butter Solution is a strange, cheerfully clunky little movie that feels too spooky for kids and too dumb for adults.

The story takes a little inspiration from the Scooby Doo playbook, with a smoldering, abandoned house, petulant ghosts, and a creepy authority figure who’s up to no good.  (Side note:  If there’s not a band out there called Scooby Doo Playbook, Imma be real disappointed, y’all.)  Michael (Matthew Mackay) is a typical preteen boy in an idyllic Canadian town.  His mother has gone to Australia on family business, prompting Michael to mope through his day.  His remaining family and friends are, predictably, the living embodiment of 80s eccentricity:  Older sister Susan (Alison Podbrey) dresses in her mom’s bathrobe and relentlessly henpecks Michael.  And we see their unkempt father (Michael Hogan), a starving artist destined to grow hungrier because his paintings aren’t any good.  Finally, there’s Conrad (Siluck Saysanasy), Michael’s mischievous-yet-lovable best friend.  Oh yeah, there’s also a……ahem, creepy Italian art teacher (Michel Maillot) who preaches against creativity and has the kids sketch his Blue Heeler.  I mean, what the hell? Did screenwriters have steady access to peyote in the 80s?

Annnnyyywayyy, Charlie Bucket  Michael’s outlook picks up when Conrad tells him about a nearby house fire, and some winos who burned up in the disaster.  Hey, I know that always puts a little steam in my stride.  So, Michael and Connie resolve to take a peek in what’s left of the house and see if there’s anything to satisfy their morbid fascination.  Sure ’nuff, Michael climbs inside and sees the ghosts of the dead hobos all around him.  Just let that soak in, gang:  The specter of angry, elderly drunks who burned alive.  This is a CHILDREN’S MOVIE.  Michael tumbles out of the house in terror, and soon discovers the fright has caused him to lose all the hair on his head.

Distraught, Michael stays at home and waits to see if some stubble sprouts.  When it doesn’t, the dead hobos show up to offer a potential cure.  Michael must conduct some strange alchemy, mixing rotten eggs, dead flies, and–you guessed it–peanut butter to make some kind of sorcerous Rogaine, with the hope that his hair will come back.  Like the wise man said, when the gods wish to punish you, they answer your prayers:  Pretty soon, Michael’s hair is growing at warp speed, causing his appearance to run the rock star gauntlet.  He starts at Mick Jagger, before going to Leon Russell, ZZ Top, and finally leaving them all behind by going full-on Rapunzel.  His classmates brand Michael as a freak, while the creepy Italian dude concocts a way to exploit the boy for his own gain.

So very weird.  I remember watching this movie in 5th grade, during class.  And this wasn’t even the most traumatizing thing we watched that year!  (Watership Down made me sleep with lights on for a month.  And this was like, two years ago.)  The best I can say about this whole thing is that there are a few moments where it gets campy to the point of being fun:  Maillot goes so overboard as the villain, he might as well be twiddling his mustache in a silent movie.  Saysanasy gets some cornball one-liners as the dutiful sidekick, and Harry Hill scores a few points as a hammy spoof of Albert Einstein.  But, the most fascinating thing about this movie lies in its bizarre flights of storytelling fancy:  No joke, Conrad swipes the peanut butter solution to put some on his crotch.  Soon, he’s got pubes growing out of his shoes.  This movie is an oddity, an 80s obscurity that isn’t so much bad to the point of being good as mediocre to the point of being fascinating.  In fact, The Peanut Butter Solution might be the most interesting boring movie I’ve ever seen.

 

 

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Author: Todd Wofford

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