by Anthony King
After October I always seem to turn to dramadies, heavier movies, and more specifically, dysfunctional family movies. While the holidays have always been a time of joy for me and my family in my 38 years on this planet, I know it's not that way for millions of people. And for some reason I've always been fascinated by those stories. Isn't that why many of us turn to movies? We want to see a world different than our own. We want to hear stories of people who are nothing like us, and a lot of the time, complete opposites of who we are.
Enter the family drama. The older I get the more I've come to realize my story is quite uncommon. My parents were happily married until my father passed away, the four of us had always been really close, and other than the usual peculiarities, there're no neuroses to speak of. I hope as my sons get older they get to experience the same kind of family life, but I'm not ruling out bouts of neurotic behavior in the future as the world around us is constantly changing.
For this double I've turned to two families that are the complete opposite of what I grew up with. We start things off with the Larsons of Baltimore in Jodie Foster's Home for the Holidays. The film stars Holly Hunter as Claudia, a recently-fired, single mother who lives in Chicago. She's flying back to Baltimore to have Thanksgiving with her parents (Charles Durning and Anne Bancroft), her aunt (Geraldine Chaplin), and her sister and her husband (Cynthia Stevenson and Steve Guttenberg). The only person who could make this weekend bearable, her brother (Robert Downey Jr.), isn't coming. To make things worse, Claudia's teenage daughter (Claire Danes) is staying back in Chicago to have sex with her boyfriend. Between the cast and this bare-bones setup, this is exactly the type of movie I'm in the mood for every November.
We then head north to New York to spend time with the Meyerowitz family in Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). Not unlike the Larsons from before, the Meyerowitzes are spread out all over the country and are re-united at their childhood home. But unlike the Larsons, none of these people are what you'd call “pleasant.” The family is headed by Harold and his wife Maureen (Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson). Harold's three children are Danny (Adam Sandler), Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), and Matthew (Ben Stiller). All three siblings have their own hang-ups, and they all lead back to their father. Harold has an accident and ends up in the hospital and the kids are forced to come together to get family affairs in order.
There aren't many “great” dysfunctional family movies, but I think these are two examples. They're movies that don't quite fit into my established double feature rules, but they make me feel how I want to feel during this time of year.