Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century is a look back at the weirdest and most off center movies of the 20th century. From head turning horror to oddball science fiction this column examines the films that leave audiences not knowing what to think.
Did you ever get so scared your hair straight up fell out of your head? That is exactly what happens to a young boy named Michael after he enters a home that was recently in a fire. Michael looks in a window and sees something so terrifying his hair falls out. Luckily, there’s a remedy involving peanut butter that makes it grow back at an exponential rate. Michael Rubbo’s 1985 film The Peanut Butter Solution is certainly a strange film. What adds to its peculiarity is that it’s several strange films in one. Part drama, part fantasy, and part adventure film, The Peanut Butter Solution is indeed a family film, but it depends on your family.
The film opens with Michael moping at the kitchen table. We learn their mother has gone away and Michael and his sister Suzie are carrying on as if she has abandoned them. It turns out she is far away helping her elderly mother. Meanwhile, Suzie who is also a child, has taken to wearing her mother’s robe and has assumed all duties deemed motherly while their father works on his art. Suzie tries her best to feed the family, maintain the household, and comfort her brother. Their behavior is strange. While their mother is away, they keep in contact with her and she plans on returning. This is fine. They are children and miss their mother. The oddity of this is the way it’s portrayed. It’s very dramatic, Michael‘s reactions and vitriolic attitude towards his sister is a bit much. It’s a little too sad for a movie about magical hair loss.
Suzie and her father try their best to cheer up Michael who is angry about his hair loss. The movie’s set up and tone would suggest he should be reasonably upset, but Michael spirals into a heartbreaking depression. He is bullied and humiliated by the neighborhood children. He refuses to go out, cries, and longs for his mother. This alludes that perhaps he witnessed something a little too traumatic for the scope and tone of this film. But alas, the ghosts of homeless people show up and give him a recipe for the peanut butter solution.
Michael adds a little too much peanut butter and this produces fantastic results. He starts the day with stubble on his bare scalp and has elbow length hair by lunch. The film shifts in tone here when his friend Connie gets the idea to apply some of the solution to his crotch. This part is funny, but given the overall gloominess of the film, it’s just off putting.
The film shifts again when Signor, an evil art teacher kidnaps Michael and a whole mess of other kids. He uses Michael‘s hair to make paint brushes. Lucky for those kids, sister Suzie is in full mom mode and she teams up with Connie and his super long pubes to rescue the children.
At the end, everything ends well and Suzie and Michael’s mother returns from Australia. There is a very fun and unique film in here, but it goes off the rails. It might be the emotional roller coaster tone of the film or it might be that there’s just too much happening, but The Peanut Butter Solution is just zany enough to be part of someone’s nostalgia collection. Slap on a wig (or a merkin) and check it out.