My Stepmother is an Alien


SF elements

an alien visits Earth, having learned about it only from TV


Dr Steven Mills, searching for extraterrestrial intelligence, accidentally beams a dangerous signal to another planet. The aliens send two of their own people, Celeste Martin and the Eye in the Handbag, to get Mills to reverse the damage. Celeste ingratiates her way into his life, but his 13-year-old daughter Jessie has seen her eat batteries...

[Celeste meets Dr Steve]

Actually, the plot, such as it is, isn't important, and isn't allowed to get in the way of the comedy. This is a 'culture clash' film, a series of comic scenes as Celeste tries to fit in to a society she's learned about from only TV and movies, often old TV and movies. And it is very funny, partly due to a wonderfully witty script, partly due to Kim Basinger's marvelous comedy acting and timing. A couple of highlights are the "kissing" scene, where she is copying her actions from a bewildering variety of film clips watched over Dan Ackroyd's shoulder, and the snippet where she reads the Complete Works of Shakespeare (with her arm) in about 10 seconds flat, experiencing all the emotions in that time. Her interactions with her alien handbag-tutor are wonderful, too.

The daughter Jessie gets a good part. Initially she's pleased that her father, widowed five years ago, is falling in love. Then she realises that Celeste is Not What She Seems, but can't get her father to believe her. She manages all this in a thankfully uncute way. (But is this new myth, seen here and in many other American light comedies -- of children who actively encourage their parents to remarry -- being used to counteract the Wicked Stepmother myth, or to assuage the single parent guilt trip?)

We aren't exactly knee-deep in SFnal tropes here, and the technobabble is frankly ludicrous (but peripheral). However, if one of the results of good SF is to expose some of our own tacit assumptions, this succeeds, on a not-too-deep level: the appropriate outdoor clothing scene, the breakfast scene, and especially the whole subplot of how different TV really is from Real Life.

The film gets a bit sentimental towards the end, once Celeste's identity has been revealed, but the whole thing is good fun, nevertheless. It's the best laugh I've had in a while.

Rating: 3

[ unmissable | worth watching | passes the time | mind candy | waste of time | unfinishable ]


Dr Steven Mills ..... Dan Ackroyd
Celeste Martin ..... Kim Basinger
Jessie Mills ..... Alyson Hannigan ['Willow' in Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series]
Handbag voice ..... Ann Prentiss
Ron Mills ..... Jon Lovitz
Dr Lucas Budlong ..... Joseph Maher
Fred Glass ..... Seth Green

reviewed 13 February 1999