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November 26th, 2003 WW Screen Staff | DVD & TV
 

Dysfunctional Family Fun

     
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Ah, the holidays. We gather with our family, carve the bird and, of course, yell at each other. Someone says "I hate you," someone else blames his life of misery on Mom, Dad starts screaming about what disappointments you all are, and everyone keeps a wary eye on the cutlery. But if you think your own clan has issues, check out these dysfunctional film families, and you just might give some thanks after all.

The Sea (2002)--Thordur, an Icelandic fishing boss, calls his loathsome offspring home to discuss money matters, in turn unleashing a wave of pent-up hatred, greed, lust and various other deadly sins. Wonderfully despicable characters include a rebellious son, a volatile daughter, a sleazy weak-kneed brother, a sexpot half-sister, a nasty granny, and, of course, the haunting but gorgeous glacial backdrop of Iceland. Compelling familial implosion at its best from director Baltasar Kormakur.

Shy People (1987)--Rich city mom trucks her teen-punk daughter down to the bayou to visit their distant Cajun relatives. What they find is pure madness. A sickly devoted matriarch (a brilliant Barbara Hershey) swings an iron fist over her brood of detached rednecks and bears a grisly torch for her long-lost husband who's "Somewhar out dare in da swamp." Toss in the city folk with their pop music, TV and top-o'-the-line cocaine, and this split-family brew sparks intense degeneration laced with profundity.

Ordinary People (1980)--When an affluent, ticky-tacky suburban family loses a son, brother Timothy Hutton slips into depression, daddy Donald Sutherland remains blissfully oblivious, and hawk-eyed mom Mary Tyler Moore, who loved the now-dead son best, is more interested in keeping up appearances than in dealing with her own family. The small cast works wonders as this Robert Redford-directed gem explores the duality of familial love and the deep feelings of pain and resentment that fester within a whitewashed home. Chilling, stirring and provocative.

Shine (1996)--The story follows piano prodigy David Helfgott (Geoffrey Rush) through a mental breakdown and an eventual comeback, but it's the striking presence of his controlling, abusive father (Armin Mueller-Stahl) that takes center stage. The first act is truly harrowing, as the evil papa spies on his kids through a wire fence and hounds young David (Noah Taylor) out of his mind, but an uplifting progression sees David in search of a new social unit from the most unlikely of sources.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)--Shame on you if you haven't seen this John Frankenheimer masterpiece yet. Despite the Cold War espionage and conspiring assassins, this is a story of a bad, bad mommy (Angela Lansbury) who rears the ultimate schizophrenic military robot for a child. The less said, the better, but it'll warp your whole conception of reality.

 
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