Movie Reviews: Firstborn (1984)


Beware: spoilers ahead.

The U.S. divorce rate peaked in 1981, as no-fault divorce became available in nearly all 50 states. A number of successful kid and teen dramas at the time reflected the new single-parent reality, including E.T., Footloose, Pretty in Pink, The Manhattan Project, The Karate Kid, The Lost Boys, Vision Quest, and The Bad News Bears.

For exactly one hour, Firstborn seriously addresses the breakdown of the nuclear family from the perspective of those it hit hardest: the kids. The last 45 minutes go up in a puff of action movie clichés and moral hysteria.

Jake (Christopher Collet, The Manhattan Project) and Brian (Corey Haim in his film debut) live with their mom (Terri Garr) in an affluent suburb on the East Coast. They go to a nice school. Jake has a nice girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker). He’s got typically rascally friends (Robert Downey Jr. plays one of them). He’s a star on the lacrosse team.


Things start to unravel when his boring, blue blood dad announces his plans to remarry, and his mom starts going out with working class Sam (played brilliantly by Peter Weller), who installs security systems and drives a big truck.

Sam tries to charm the kids into liking him. When that doesn’t work, he bribes them. Eventually, he moves in. One night, as music blares from a party downstairs, Jake comes out of his room and catches his mom and Sam snorting cocaine off the pinball machine (Sam’s one contribution to the household). Soon afterwards we learn that Sam is a drug dealer.

Mom starts to smoke and drink beer. Dishes and trash pile up around the house. Sam starts pushing the kids around. Jake begs his mother to kick him out, but she “can’t.” She tells a neighbor: “So he does not have a law degree, so what? He’s a very nice guy. He’s solid, he’s full of life, and he needs me… And right now, that’s very important to me.”

Jake, as the older brother and “man of the house,” has to take care of business himself. He steals Sam’s score, there’s a fight, Sam tries to run down Jake in his big truck, and there’s a final, unconvincing showdown back at the house.


The second half of the movie hinges on the premise that Garr’s character, Wendy, up to this point a good mother who has raised two smart boys and handled a marital separation with dignity, would suddenly turn into the worst person in the world. I enjoyed seeing all the actors in Firstborn, and the ’80s repartee and atmosphere is fun, but I found Garr’s transformation totally unbelievable and offensive.

The subtext is there—it’s implicit in the tagline, actually. First, women are fickle and weak-kneed by nature, so there’s always an underlying justification for men to leave them. Second, if you’re a divorced upper middle class woman and you absolutely must get remarried, hook up with a guy who has money. Working class men know how to barbecue, but they’re probably lazy, violent drug dealers who will at some point try to kill you and your children.

While it lasts, you can watch Firstborn here.

(Movie poster via; stills via Cineplex)

2 Responses to “Movie Reviews: <em>Firstborn</em> (1984)”

  1. 1 Jason July 11, 2013 at 12:15 am

    Hard to believe SJP didn’t always look like a horse. Although I always preferred her brace-faced friend on Square Pegs.

  2. 2 2W2N July 11, 2013 at 12:59 am

    You know, I wanted to buy Square Pegs a while back, but the original music is missing. I hate that.

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