Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 #28 Six Weeks (1982)
Welcome, friends, to the latest entry in Control Nathan Rabin 4.0. It’s the site and career-sustaining column where I give YOU, the God-like, disconcertingly sexy Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place patron an opportunity to choose a movie I must watch and then write about in exchange for a one-time, one hundred dollar pledge.
I actually started to watch 1982’s Six Weeks yesterday but I was feeling depressed and figured that a drama about the final month and a half in the life of a child dying of Leukemia might be a downer. What a fool I was! I could not have been more wrong!
When I was a single man I wasn’t terribly sympathetic towards children in movies. When I watched Nightmare on Elm Street, for example, my sympathies were squarely with Freddy Krueger. I figured that those kids must have done something pretty darn awful to make him murder them.
Now that I’m the father of two and derive most of my joy and satisfaction from my boys my perspective has changed dramatically. I’m now extremely anti-child-murder. Honestly, murdering a child is one of the worst things you can do and the death of a child is a tragedy of almost unimaginable proportions. Well, that’s usually the case. When a child dies in a movie it’s often tragic and heartbreaking but sometimes it’s fucking hilarious.
At the risk of being callous, in Six Weeks is a film in which the death of a child is fucking hilarious. Six Weeks is a tear-jerker all right, but the tears in question are tears of laughter from the movie’s never-ending parade of unintentional laughter.
Watching Tony Bill’s critically panned flop I experienced a distinct feeling of deja vu. Though separated by decades, Six Weeks reminded me of The Book of Henry so much that I began thinking of it as The Book of Henrietta.
Except instead of focussing on an irritatingly, overbearingly, impossibly precocious dying child whose final wish is for his mother to commit righteous murder for him, Six Weeks is about an irritatingly, overbearingly, impossibly precocious dying child whose final wish is to get her mother laid with a politician she seems really into but cannot have sex with because, you know, she’s a dying child.
Six Weeks’ ostensible hero but actual villain is Nicole (real life ballerina Katherine Healy), the aforementioned Leukemia-afflicted hellion. A distractingly sluggish, low-energy Dudley Moore plays the politician she’s intent on setting up with her sex-starved mother. Six Weeks’ early scenes establish Patrick Dalton as the Clown Prince of California politics. He’s depicted as a goofball, an Abbie Hoffman-style prankster whose methods are as outrageous as they are effective, like a singing telegram delivers to the mayor we learn “captured more attention than five years of public outcry.”
Patrick Dalton is a “funny” character played by one of the top funnymen of his day in a movie that never allows him to be funny, just stiffly semi-humorous. It doesn’t help that Moore is so sluggish and lethargic here that it feels like he discovered his dog died before every take, and consequently his heart and soul just aren’t into whatever he’s doing. We’re talking Jeb Bush levels of sleepiness here. Six Weeks is paced like an afternoon nap but nowhere near as exciting.
Patrick and Nicole meet cute and creepy when he’s lost driving to a plush fundraiser and ends up asking her for directions. Being the gentlemanly sort, Patrick offers Nicole a ride home but Nicole demurs on the grounds that “Some men are attracted to girls my age.”
That would be awkward enough if it were not quickly followed by the dying little girl asking the Carrot Top of California politics “Are you attracted to me?”
That is an impossibly loaded question. If he says yes then he’s a goddamn pedophile. If he says no he’s a jerk.
Nicole is distractingly, disconcertingly, migraine-inducingly wise behind her years but she’s somehow not mature enough to know that “Are you a pedophile?” is not a terribly polite question to ask someone you just met.
Improbably charmed by Nicole’s display of creepily flirtatious precocity, he snags an invite for her to the soiree he’s attending. Nicole shows up with her mother Charlotte (Mary Tyler Moore), who Nicole insists is “painting orchids” only “REAL erotic.”
Nicole really leans into “real” in a way that disconcertingly highlights a level of inappropriate sexuality to rival Blame it On Rio or My Father the Hero.
But Nicole is obnoxiously precocious in other ways as well. She’s not just interested in Patrick as a man who will fuck her lonely mother the ways she desperately needs to be fucked: she’s also interested in him as a politician. “What do you believe in, politically? Can you make it quick?” she inquires in a mad rush, following it up with equally penetrating questions like, “What about the poor? What about wars and everything?”
When Patrick answers that he’d like to help the poor and stop wars she is SOLD. Charlotte later informs Patrick, “She sent away for some material on you and thinks you stand for all the right things.”
Like all children, particularly dying, rich, impossibly accomplished fictional ones, Nicole’s dying dream is to play a major role in a political campaign. Oh, and to dance in The Nutcracker in New York. And for her mother to get laid. And for her mother and favorite politician to fall in love and get make-pretend married. She’s got a lot on her plate although, as far as we know, she’s not trying to murder anybody posthumously like the titular scamp in The Book of Henry.
It takes a goddamn half hour for this hilariously terrible movie about a dying child to reveal that it’s a movie about a brat who is not long for this world. When Charlotte offers to essentially buy her child’s place in an underdog political campaign in exchange for a whole lot of money, Patrick understandably says no on the grounds that Nicole will have plenty of time to become interested and involved in politics in the future.
“SHE WON’T BE GETTING ANY OLDER” Charlotte screams hilariously and finally Patrick understands why Charlotte is so goddamn insistent on helping her daughter realize her dreams as quickly and melodramatically as possible.
Nicole works for Patrick’s campaign while aggressively playing match-maker/pimp/wing-lady for her mom. At dinner one night Nicole asks her mother and Patrick, “"Do you think you two will ever make love? It’s plain you love each other.”
To really drive home the point that her mother is horny as fuck, and would love to pork a married politician way too comfortable abandoning his family and campaign for long stretches of time, Nicole tells Patrick, “Mom hasn’t had sex in ages.”
Nicole is so unbearably knowing that you half expect her to then say, “I should know. I’ve got surveillance cameras in her bedroom and she is not fucking ANYBODY.”
In case anyone is still in the dark about this adorable little girl REALLY wanting her mom to get her fuck on, she assures her two parental type figures, “Tonight I’ll be sleeping with my earphones on. I wouldn’t hear an earthquake.” She does not technically say, “I don’t WANT you guys to fuck. I NEED you to fuck. And I’m DYING!” but that certainly is the implication. She then leaves so she can spy on her mom and platonic boyfriend/daddy figure through a peephole and is VERY disappointed when they don’t fuck that night.
Early in Six Weeks, a confused Patrick asks Charlotte, “Are you hiring me to play with your child?” It’s a legitimate question, particularly since in the early going Six Weeks feels an awful lot like another bad-taste “family” comedy from 1982, the rightfully reviled, egregiously racist Richard Pryor vehicle The Toy. Only instead of a wealthy champion of industry hiring a man to be his child’s toy/friend Charlotte seems to be generously agreeing to fund Patrick’s current campaign on the grounds that Patrick do double and triple and quadruple duty as her daughter’s combination political mentor/spiritual soulmate/platonic boyfriend/imaginary daddy.
In a decidedly The Book of Henry-like turn of events, the makeshift family heads to New York to cross some shit off their bucket lists. Patrick even arranges for Nicole to score an audition for a professional production of The Nutcracker that Nicole, being perfect, absolutely nails.
Bear in mind, this amateur little girl doesn’t score a plum role in a prestigious production of The Nutcracker because she’s dying and people feel sorry for her, or because her mother appears to be one of the richest women in the country. No, she gets the gig because she’s that good. She earns it.
I am not a doctor so I cannot say for sure but it seems implausible that a little girl dying of Leukemia would be in good enough shape physically to do something as incredibly demanding, difficult and exhausting as dancing in a professional ballet. It’d be like making a movie about a boy dying of Cancer who hits a home run to win the Little League World Series in his last five minutes on planet Earth.
Nicole’s will is so strong that she is not about to let something as minor as Patrick having a wife and son he’s ignoring keep her from joining her temporary dad figure and mother in imaginary matrimony. In a queasy-making scene that’s supposed to be charming, Nicole presides over an imaginary wedding for her mother and Patrick.
“I now pronounce us man, child and wife” she insists, before ordering her parental figures, “You may now kiss the child.”
Deep into their big fantasy New York trip, Nicole runs down some of the things left on her bucket list, taking way too long to gaze adoringly and pleadingly at Patrick while doing so. Let’s see, she’s never kissed a boy, or watched an X-rated movie, or had sex. Or eaten snails. All but nervously tugging on an invisible neck tie, Patrick quips that he can at least help the dying little girl with the “eating snails” part.
All that’s left is a dramatic death on a subway car that is as hilarious as it is wildly melodramatic.
I was worried that Six Weeks would move me to tears even if it was terrible, simply because of its subject matter. I shouldn’t have worried. Six Weeks isn’t really about the death of a child, both because the child in question is fictional but also because she’s a child that could never exist in our world. She’s both a miniature grown-up and a showy, obnoxious, insufferable aggregation of quirks and tics. She could never live so, by definition, she could never actually die.
I was worried that Six Weeks would depress and sadden me. Instead it was good for many a guilty chuckle. To paraphrase a line widely attributed to Oscar Wilde, one must have a heart of stone to watch the death of little Nicole without laughing.
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