Americana Movie Month: "Leave it to Beaver" Review

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Cleavers are an all-American family living in Ohio - wise father Ward, loving mother June, teen-age son Wally and 8-year-old "Beaver" Theodore. Beaver hopes to get a bike as a gift from his father and to please him tries out for his school football team and he makes it, only to be embarrassed. The bike he gets is quickly stolen. Meanwhile Wally is trying to help his friend Eddie Haskell to get the heart of pretty classmate Karen, but Karen seems to like Wally more, and that leads to tensions between the friends.
2.5

Americana Movie Month: "Leave it to Beaver" Review

-- Rating: PG
Length: 84 minutes
Release Date: August 22, 1997
Directed By: Andy Cardiff
Genre: Comedy, Family

Beaver Cleaver captured the heart of the country in 1957 when the sitcom "Leave It to Beaver" began its six-year television run. The Cleaver family epitomized life in the 1950s with a working father, stay-at-home mother, two precocious children, and a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence. The world has changed quite a bit since the show ended in 1963, and the "Leave It to Beaver" movie that debuted in 1997 incorporated many of those changes.

The movie revolves around the antics of Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver (Cameron Finley), the youngest son of June (Janine Turner) and Ward (Christopher McDonald) Cleaver. Beaver falls in love with a red bike he sees in a store window and wants it for his birthday, but he doesn't think his father will pay for it. Eddie Haskell (Adam Zolotin), a friend of Beaver's older brother Wally (Erik von Detten), advises Beaver to try to butter his father up by trying out for the football team.

Beaver makes the team, but quickly dashes his father's dream of living vicariously through his son when Beaver inadvertently passes the ball to someone he knows from summer camp, even though that person is on the opposing team. Despite his lack of prowess on the field, Beaver gets his beloved bike from his parents on his birthday and a brand new computer from his Aunt Martha (Barbara Billingsley).

In short order, the bike is stolen when Wally leaves Beaver outside the soda shop while he goes inside to watch Eddie flirt with a girl. Although the boys try to hide the news from their parents, they eventually find out. Wally isn't happy that he got in trouble for not watching out for his little brother and the boys get into a fight, which winds up with the computer sailing out the bedroom window.

As usual, Beaver triumphs in the end. He sticks with the football team, despite his father telling him it is okay to quit if he wants to, and winds up scoring a touchdown. He finds the punk who stole his bike and manages to get it back. Eddie winds up showing his true obnoxious colors and the girl he likes dumps him for Wally and they all live happily ever after.

One of the high points of the movie was watching Barbara Billingsley play the role of Aunt Martha. Diehard "Leave It to Beaver" fans will remember her as the woman who will always be June Cleaver, a role she played in the original sitcom as well as "The New Leave It to Beaver," which ran from 1983 to 1989. At the time of the movie's release in 1997, Billingsley was eighty-two years old. She retired from acting in 2003 and passed away in 2010.

Cameron Finley, who played the role of Beaver, began acting at the tender age of six playing the role of Doug Carver in the 1993 hit movie "What's Eating Gilbert Grape." He followed up with roles in several television sitcoms and movies, including "The Lionhearts," "Baywatch," and "One True Love." Despite winning a special award for Rising Star Actor at the Lone Star Film and Television Awards in 1998 and Best Child Actor at the Santa Clarita International Film Festival in 2001, Finley retired from acting in 2000.

Finley is the perfect sidekick to Christopher McDonald who played the role of Ward Cleaver. In fact, McDonald is the most-seasoned actor in the movie with more than 160 credits to his name. Best known for his role as Goose McKenzie in "Grease 2," McDonald has many other hits to his name, including roles in "Thelma and Louise," "Grumpy Old Men," and "Happy Gilmore."

Director Andy Cardiff has had a prosperous career after "Leave It to Beaver," although he has returned to his roots in television, directing many television series, sitcoms, and movies. In the years after the movie, he directed hits such as "Home Improvement," "Spin City," and "My Wife and Kids." More recent accomplishments include "Rules of Engagement" and "Anger Management."

"Leave It to Beaver" takes the best of the original 1950s sitcom and fast-forwards it into today's culture, giving the audience a bird's eye view into parenting in the 21st century. Beaver desperately wants to please his parents, but also believes he is smarter than them like the typical modern child. June and Ward want to be the best parents they can be, but aren't always sure how to communicate with their children. The movie is endearing, and one that many parents can relate to while getting a few chuckles along the way.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5