Classic Movies About Dysfunctional Families …
Traditionally during the Christmas holidays, millions of us travel by train, plane, and automobile to spend time with our families. This year, things are likely to be different. In the interest of not getting our loved ones sick, please stay home. But if you’re like me, you’ll be missing your quirky, beloved family more than ever. If you’re looking for a good fix for missing out on the real thing, check out some of my favorite movies featuring families of all kinds.
They’re my favorites for different reasons, including stellar ensemble casts, quirky humor, the most accurate depiction of a female orgasm I’ve ever seen, realistic love, and that unmistakable feeling that comes when you get it wrong, and what, if anything, you can do about it. At their best, these movies remind us that we are connected, with roots that run deeper than mere compatibility. Make yourself a bowl of popcorn and settle in for the duration. You’ll be glad you did.
Crazy, Stupid, Love. Okay, I have to admit, besides appearing near the top of the alphabet, this is one of my favorite movies, simply because there are so many special moments. (And I won’t give a single one away.) Steve Carrell, Juliane Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, and Analeigh Tipton all give superb, nuanced performances in this family drama. There are plenty of satisfying romantic elements, and young actor Jonah Bobo’s heartbreakingly earnest performance is truly outstanding. A box-office smash in 2011, Crazy, Stupid, Love continues to stand up well. I viewed it on the big screen, and several times since, at home. I’d not been a huge fan of The Office, but this endearing movie made me an instant fan of actor Steve Carrell. Rated PG-13, $2.99 on Amazon Prime.
Junebug, the 2005 film directed by Phil Morrison, is one of my favorite films, ever, in which the talented and versatile Amy Adams shines as a young, expectant mother. Junebug features another amazing ensemble cast in a film more character-driven than plot-driven. Unlikely alliances form when a sophisticated art-dealer (Embeth Davidtz) and her husband (the very sexy Alessandro Nivola) make an impromptu stop to visit his family in North Carolina. Stereotypes abound in this movie, but the performances elevate the film beyond most movies that depict southern culture. Rated R, $2.99 on Amazon Prime.
Must Love Dogs, another 2005 film, directed by Gary David Goldberg, stars Diane Lane as Sarah and John Cusack as Jake. But one of my favorite performances in the film comes from Elizabeth Perkins, who plays Sarah’s sister Carol. The film focuses on Sarah’s and Jake’s separate attempts to navigate the world of online dating. The family vibe of his film is endearing, especially the ‘intervention’ staged by Sarah’s siblings, which culminates in Carol’s attempt to create an online profile for her sister. Christopher Plummer turns in a sweet performance as Sarah’s father, while Dermot Mulroney plays the sexy interloper who threatens Sarah and Jake’s future. But in the end, love wins. There’s a lot of good-natured humor in this movie. And as a recently-divorced woman myself, I found it highly relatable. Rated PG-13, $2.99 on Amazon Prime.
Spanglish premiered around the Christmas holidays, way back in 2004. But, I love movies that change my mind about actors I’m not in love with, and this movie changed mine about Adam Sandler. John (Sandler) is the father of two children, married to Deborah, played by a comically-shrill Tea Leoni. Unable to cope with her chaotic life, Deborah soon becomes reliant on the help of Flor, a Mexican immigrant hired as a maid/nanny played by Penelope Cruz-look-alike Paz Vega. Flor brings with her a daughter, Christina, who is the same age as the daughter of the family she is working for. Christina is wonderfully played — and I like that her character also narrates the story. Like many dysfunctional family dramas, the storyline is neither terribly clear, nor predictable, but overall, this film still seems to punch above its weight. Directed by James Brooks, Spanglish is rated PG-13. Free on Amazon Prime.
Something’s Gotta Give (2003) is a classic ‘dysfunctional family movie’ that stands the test of time, no doubt due to the acting chops of its stars. From the moment they meet, Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton steal the show — and each others’ hearts — as their amazing, comedic chemistry leaps off the screen. They’re joined by Amanda Peet as Marin, Keaton’s daughter, and the subject of a May-December romance. Nicholson’s Harry Sanborn has whisked Marin away for a sexy weekend at her mother’s Hampton’s beach house — but surprise, her mother (Keaton) is already in residence. Hijinks ensue, culminating in a surprise medical crisis attended by a handsome local doctor, deliciously played by Keanu Reeves. (I think this might be when Reeves began wearing turtlenecks.) I always love the older woman/younger man trope, especially when it’s a case of turnabout is fair play. Something’s Gotta Give is director Nancy Meyers at her best. You can practically smell the ocean breezes, so it’s a nice, little escape from ice and snow. Rated PG-13, and Free (with ads) on Amazon Prime.
This is Where I Leave You, a 2014 hit from the screenplay by Jonathan Tropper, features another terrific ensemble cast. When their father passes away, four siblings return to sit shiva under the guidance of their mother, played by Jane Fonda. Relationships with spouses, exes, and first loves who got away are explored in heartbreaking and humorous moments. Jason Bateman, Tiny Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Connie Britton, and Dax Shepard star. Perhaps with such a large cast, it’s difficult to dive deep and really explore the nuances of these relationships — but I still enjoyed many moments of this film and I hope you will, too. Rated R, $2.99 on Amazon Prime.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these classic films featuring dysfunctional families, and your suggestions, too. I promise to read the comments. Happy holidays! Is it too soon?