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Meet the Applegates (1991, Ed Begley Jr, Stockard Channing)

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Described as a ‘cross between Cronenberg’s The Fly and a Doris Day picture of the Eisenhower era,’ this witty and bizarre science fiction satire marked the impressively sharp follow-up of director Michael Lehmann following his debut with the 1989 cult success Heathers.

A family of giant Brazilian insects, finding their habitat in the jungle under threat from a dam project, are sent by the queen of the nest, Aunt Bea (Dabney Coleman), to Ohio with instructions to infiltrate a nuclear power plant and blow it up as a display of insect power. Using a Fun with Dick and Jane primer used to teach Brazilian Indians to read, the cockroach quartet transform themselves into a average middle-class, Middle-American family – husband and wife Dick and Jane (Ed Begley Jr and Stockard Channing), teenage children Johnny and Sally (Bobby Jacoby and Cami Cooper) and dog Spot (a baby bug) and move into the suburbs. There, Begley gets a job at the local nuclear power station and the family soon blend in and, almost as fast, fall prey to typical suburban temptations.

Dick has an affair with his secretary, Jane becomes addicted to credit cards, Sally, impregnated by college football hero Vince Samson (Adam Biesk), becomes a lesbian, and Johnny becomes hooked on marijuana. Any humans who interfere with what the family want are spun into cocoons and hidden in the cellar but Dick is fired before he can blow up the nuclear power plant.

Coleman (splendid in drag as ‘Aunt Bea’) turns up with a commando squad to launch an assault on the power station. But, now assimilated into the American way of life, Dick crushes the raiders and saves the town… after which the Applegates return to the Brazilian rainforest, where Jane starts a militant Bug Liberation organization…

Said Lehmann, ‘The Appelgates are a satire of what constitutes normality in America and American family values. The film also has a ludicrously stated but well-intentioned ecological message – that people need to treat the environment well or it will come back to haunt them. It is primarily a comedy, not a message film. But the satire is meant to expose certain hypocrisies and social issues in America today.’

His lampoon of the American way of life is as sharp and sarcastic as was his send-up of the American high school in Heathers. Lehmann’s handling was savage and sure, and well served by impressive animated costumes for the bugs – designed by Kevin Yagher – and telling small-town locations in Appleton, Wisconsin, which stood in for the film’s setting of Median, Iowa.

production details
USA | 90 minutes | 1991

Director: Michael Lehmann
Script: Michael Lehmann, Redbeard Simmons,

cast
Ed Begley Jr. as Richard P. Applegate
Stockard Channing as Jane Applegate
Dabney Coleman as Aunt Bea
Robert Jayne as Sally Applegate
Camille Cooper as Sally Applegate
Glenn Shadix as Greg Samson
Susan Barnes as Opal Withers
Adam Biesk as Vince Sampson
Savannah Smith Boucher as Dottie
Roger Aaron Brown as Sheriff Heidegger
Lee Garlington as Nita Samson
Mark Bringelson as Rich Block
Sherrie Wills as Peace Corps Volunteer