Modern Problems

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Modern Problems
Modern Problems Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKen Shapiro
Written byKen Shapiro
Tom Sherohman
Arthur Sellers
Produced byAlan Greisman
Michael Shamberg
CinematographyEdmond L. Koons
Edited byMichael Jablow
Music byDominic Frontiere
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • December 25, 1981 (1981-12-25)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$8 million[1]
Box office$26,154,211

Modern Problems is a 1981 American science fiction black comedy film written and directed by Ken Shapiro and starring Chevy Chase, Patti D'Arbanville, and Dabney Coleman. The film grossed $26.2 million in the United States. A DVD release of the film was issued in 2005.


Max Fiedler (Chevy Chase) is an air traffic controller at New York's Kennedy International Airport whose life is slowly going down the drain. His girlfriend, Darcy, has just left him because of his jealousy and negativity. Now, everywhere he goes he seems to run into her with Barry, her narcissistic friend who wants her to be his girlfriend, which drives Max crazy. One night while driving home from a party that turned out to be held at a gay nightclub in Lower Manhattan, a tanker truck spills nuclear waste onto Max's car. Some of it splashes onto him through his open sunroof, temporarily making him glow green before absorbing into his skin. The next day, he notices he has developed telekinesis. Max decides to use his new power to ruin Barry's attempts to woo Darcy. With newfound optimism & confidence, he slowly begins to win back Darcy's love.

Things come to a head, however, when Max is asked to spend the weekend at the summer beach house of Brian (Brian Doyle-Murray), a paraplegic friend and publisher, who is now living with Max's ex-wife Lorraine. Brian has also invited self-confidence author and womanizer Mark Winslow (Dabney Coleman), who immediately has designs on Darcy. Winslow constantly demeans and derides Max, while trying to seduce Darcy (although his egomaniacal bragging and unabashed nudity alienates her). Between no one believing his claims that he can move objects and Winslow's onslaught of insults, Max grows increasingly depressed until he cracks, proving his telekinetic power to all present at dinner by humiliating Winslow. Finally, despairing that he is a monster, Max climbs onto the roof of Brian's house during an approaching thunderstorm. Max is fortuitously struck by lightning, causing the transference of his powers to Dorita (Nell Carter), the voodoo-practicing maid. Now understanding his odd behavior, Darcy forgives Max and he is finally convinced that she truly loves him.



Michael Shamberg and Doug Kenney had a deal with Ken Shapiro to make a film—Kenney had a title, Teenage Communists from Outerspace and Shapiro wanted to make a film about telekinesis. This led to Modern Problems.[2]

Filming started in July 1980.[3] It was Chase's fifth movie in two years following Caddyshack, Seems Like Old Times, Oh Heavenly Dog and Under the Rainbow.[4] "There were problems doing the film," said Chase later. "There were times when I wasn't happy at all with the way things were going. Though I'm bound to say considering it was Ken Shapiro's first film as director he's come up with a very funny film."[5]

Chase was nearly electrocuted while filming a flying scene involving wires and had to spend several weeks in hospital.[5]

The film's release was complicated by the 1981 air traffic controller's strike.[6]

The film was recut prior to release to avoid an R rating, which upset the writers, who felt the film's best laughs were lost.[7]


The film was released on Christmas Day without advance screenings to the press. "I'm really happy with Modern Problems," said Chase prior to release. "I don't pretend to know why Fox isn't showing it to the press. I can only suppose it's because they don't want to take the chance of getting bad reviews."[5]

The New York Times said "it's not that Modern Problems is so bad, though it is incredibly sloppy, but that it's the kind of movie that doesn't need reviews to find its audience. The members of that audience, whose inner clocks are set by their television habits, don't worry much about consistency or point of view. And, having short attention spans, they immediately forget the long dull patches that separate the truly funny sequences."[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Modern Problems (1981) - Financial Information". The Numbers.
  2. ^ At the Movies; Chevy Chase up in the air over new role. Chase, Chris. New York Times 24 Dec 1981: C.6.
  3. ^ BRIEFLY Casting notes from all over The Globe and Mail; Toronto, Ont. [Toronto, Ont]02 Mar 1981: P.17.
  4. ^ MOVIES: Chevy Chase, Hollywood's busiest actor Vernon, Scott. Chicago Tribune 16 Aug 1981: d28.
  5. ^ a b c "NO HOOPLA FOR CHASE'S NEW MOVIE". Mann, Roderick. Los Angeles Times8 Dec 1981: G1.
  6. ^ FILM CLIPS: A SKELETON IN CLOSET OF 'BODIES' FILM CLIPS Boyer, Peter J. Los Angeles Times 12 Aug 1981: g1.
  7. ^ FILM CLIPS: THE PRICE OF A PG RATING FILM CLIPS: PRICE OF A PG RATING Boyer, Peter L. Los Angeles Times 9 Dec 1981: h1.
  8. ^ "CHEVY CHASE, TRAFFIC CONTROLLER": [Review] Canby, Vincent. The New York Times, 28 Dec 1981: C.16.

External links[edit]