“I saw her drink the battery juice from your Honda!”
Have you ever felt as if you’ve made up movies you know for a fact you’ve seen? I’m sure the answer to this question is yes. In fact, as of writing this piece, I know it is. Although I have fuzzy memories of watching the 1988 comedy My Stepmother is an Alien, it still never really felt like an experience that actually happened. This is chalked up to both the young age at which I first saw the movie and the fact that it never crossed my path again. But this tale—which is a special effects movie, a slapstick comedy, and an extraterrestrial love story—was both too random and too specific to ever leave my psyche. It was with great relief, then, that Arrow’s Blu-ray reissue of this maligned 80s comedy arrived to close a circle for yours truly.
The plot of My Stepmother is an Alien is about as loony as they come. In the quest to obtain scientist Steven Mills’ (Dan Aykroyd) intergalactic research, an alien being is sent to earth in the form of a beautiful woman named Celeste (Kim Basinger). However, all attempts to blend in with the humans she comes in contact with cause her to stand out instead, making her mission all the more difficult. Eventually, she finds herself falling for Steven and the two are soon walking down the aisle, much to the surprise of everyone, including his brother Ron (Jon Lovitz) and daughter Jessie (Alyson Hannigan).
If there’s a reason My Stepmother is an Alien feels less 80s than other comedies of the day, it’s due to its true screwball nature. The movie feels more in line with the kind of genre fare found in the 1940s, when comedies relied purely on the hilarity of the situations of their characters to generate laughs. My Stepmother is an Alien mirrors this technique every chance it gets, and the movie enjoys a real warmth and kind of purity that had gone out of fashion by the end of the decade.
In the tradition of I Married a Witch, It Happened Tomorrow, and Here Comes Mr. Jordan, the movie revels in its fantastical premise. Celeste makes breakfast for Steven and Jessie and includes the entirety of a diner menu she used as a guide, and she reads entire books simply by opening them and placing her arm in them. Celeste’s tears at Shakespeare, her disgust at The Shining, and laughter at Shirley MacLaine’s book on alien life show director Richard Benjamin’s firm grip on the movie’s otherworldly concept.
Despite how much of a sci-fi comedy the movie is, My Stepmother is an Alien is also a great showcase for each of the actors involved. Lovitz perfects his slimy fool character as Steven’s self-adoring brother and Hannigan steals every scene as a teenager who is essentially her father’s only link to reality. Her performance shows the promise of the career she would develop. Aykroyd gets to be the romantic lead for a change, and he’s great at it. He gives off such warmth and affability as a man whose existence has been defined by his work to the extent that he’s forgotten there’s an entirely different world outside, despite being a scientist preoccupied with trying to reach outer space.
But Basinger is the star here, thanks to the character of Celeste and the wealth of comedy opportunities that the script gives her. The actress had never allowed herself to be this free onscreen before, and watching her take on every scene with total abandon is by far the movie’s highlight. Basinger shows her biggest strength with the script’s dialogue, saying her lines with the right mix of curiosity and vulnerability. “Would I scare you if I told you I love you?” Steven asks her at one point. “Not unless you hit me at the same time,” she replies with that wide-eyed look. Channeling the likes of Carole Lombard and Lucille Ball, Basinger’s timing and delivery are so on point, her turn could easily be called one of the decade’s best female comic performances.
I suppose in some ways, My Stepmother is an Alien was reminiscent of disposable 80s fare, particularly when it comes to some of its production qualities. Yet it’s still hard to believe that it even exists. The out-there, nonsensical premise feels just as off-the-wall as it did back in 1988, and much of the comedy remains priceless. But while Benjamin pulls off most of the movie’s zany qualities, the end result can’t help but remain flawed. The movie jumps too fast at points—so much so that it begins to feel as if an entire act is missing—and a few scenes aren’t taken as far as one would hope given the lunacy of the initial concept. Still, My Stepmother is an Alien remains a wacky comedy, a send-up of the conventional family image of the 1980s and a prime example of the kind of movie-making that proves to be the best kind of insanity.
My Stepmother is an Alien is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow Video.
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