As baby boomers hit the fortysomething years and careen into a mass mid-life crisis, so too do the movies. Saddled with mortgages and alimony, with age and arthritis creeping up like muggers, the kids aren’t all right anymore. They’re pretty scared, in fact, and Hollywood has been reflecting that fear by subsuming it into jive pop thrillers like The Hand That Rocks The Cradle and, more rarely, by trying to confront it head-on, as in Lawrence Kasdan’s Grand Canyon. If you’re in a perverse frame of mind, these two make a great home-video double bill. And the order in which you watch them — whether you choose Cradle‘s pretestes to ease the realistic jolts of Grand Canyon or prefer Canyon to chase down Cradle‘s safe-as-milk formula — may say more about what you ask from movies than you care to know.

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle was an immense hit because, as the title suggests, it works like a fairy tale, pouring personal insecurities into an external bogeyman who can then be vanquished. Here the fears belong to Claire Bartel (Jungle Fever‘s Annabella Sciorra), and the threat is the au pair from hell, Peyton Mott (Rebecca De Mornay). Like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and Michael Keaton in Pacific Heights, De Mornay is meant to be the outsider who upsets the domestic yuppie applecart, but Cradle is even more calculatingly aimed at women than those two films: It’s like a Hitchcock film with production design by Laura Ashley.

Really. Unlike most horror movies, Cradle is filmed in soft, pastel colors, and the blood spilling is kept to a minimum. Peyton’s misdeeds are mostly ones of manipulation, aimed at destroying Claire’s self-esteem and ultimately her identity: She undercuts Claire’s relationship with her young daughter (oooh ). She rips up a grant proposal Claire was supposed to mail for her husband (dear God, no ). Peyton’s worst crime, in fact, is that she breast-feeds the Bartels’ infant, and when the baby rejects Claire’s milk (gasp!), the horror music kicks in, setting the stage for a climactic mama-a-mama battle (it’s no accident that the husband, played by Matt McCoy, barely registers with the viewer). The moral is so blatant that no one needs to spell it out — yet one character does anyway: ”Never let an attractive woman take a power position in your home.”

If only the movie weren’t so schematic. Or the lead characters so bland, the dialogue so dull, and, other than De Mornay’s ice-fire performance, the surprises so few. That may be why it was a box office success (a roller coaster can be more fun if you know the track). C-

Even if you’re not a baby boomer, you’ve probably felt like one, just by watching movies. From the playground fantasy of Peter Pan to the mid-life introspection of Grand Canyon, every stage of the boomers’ lives has dominated the films of its time. In fact, virtually all the zeitgeist-defining movies of the past 40 years have been for, or about, this omnipresent generation.

The Kiddie Years
Proliferation of postwar families fosters glorification of childhood and childlike heroes
Alice In Wonderland(1951)
Peter Pan (1953)
Davy Crockett, King of the of Wild Frontier (1955)

Angst and dippiness compete for the adolescent soul of America
Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957)
Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)

Coming Of Age
Aimless idealists seek meaning and romance in the Age of Aquarius
The Graduate (1967)
Easy Rider (1969)
Love Story (1970)

Swinging Singlehood
Still aimless now-capitalists perform mating rituals
Looking For Mr. Goodbar (1977)
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Annie Hall (1977)

All Grown-Up
Ugly realities of commitment and responsibility invade yuppie love units
An Unmarried Woman (1978)
Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)
The Big Chill (1983)

Mid-Life Crisis
Once-hopeful generation succumbs to animal terror and golf
Grand Canyon (1991)
The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (1992)

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle
  • Movie
  • 110 minutes