Posted by: ritagone | December 21, 2011

A Sort of Movie Review

I’m amazed at the number of films out right now about dysfunctional families.  If movies are a reflection of our society – and I say “if” but I really mean “since” – then this tells us a lot about the current state of affairs in homes and apartments and such around us.

Not very good, I’d say.

Take “The Descendants.”  There was a lot of hoopla about this film and still is.  George Clooney in a film almost guarantees success, because, let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to stare at him even when he’s playing someone dysfunctional for almost two hours (or, in this case, what felt like three hours)?  It’s a movie in which I found it difficult to like anyone.  I don’t like movies in which it’s difficult to like any of the characters.  I want to root for someone, not be so turned off by the dysfunction of all concerned that you wish they’d just all hurry up and go away.  That’s the way I felt about “The Descendants.”  As far as I was concerned, it moved at a snail’s pace amidst people I wanted desperately to get away from.  My husband whispered that he thought he had had another birthday while watching this movie.  That’s not a good sign, that you’re aging during the watching of a movie.

Or take “Young Adult,” which I liked a whole lot, mainly because Charlize Theron did such a fantastic job being dysfunctional, which she does a lot in her movie roles.  And also because I have a big crush on Patrick Wilson.  And because the character he plays is not dysfunctional and ultimately does the right thing (and I hope I’m not giving away too much of the plot by saying this).  She who is the young adult of the movie title is so damaged and so stuck in her past that you cannot help but feel terribly sorry for her while she spins her incredibly dysfunctional stories and lies.  You understand her even while condemning what she’s up to.  And then, when you meet her parents, you understand even more how she turned out the way she did.  No wonder, you say to yourself.  No wonder.

I’m talking about these two movies because they are the two I’ve seen most recently.  And I know that almost every movie has to be about some sort of dysfunction in order to hold the attention of the audience.  After all, no one wants to pay good money and sit through two hours of a family that has no conflict, no troubles, no need to confront something in their lives and no need to change.  Where’s the drama in that?  We don’t want “Father Knows Best” any more, if indeed anyone reading this even remembers “Father Knows Best at all.”  If King Lear had gotten along with all of his daughters, Shakespeare would have found another subject matter, and we’d all be reading about King Fred.  Or Macbeth and his Lady would have given way to MacDougal.  Dysfunction is the stuff of drama, and without it, we’d all be bored to tears.  I get that.

But I maintain that there’s something going on today in films that is more pervasive than it has ever been before.  I think it strikes into the heart of the movie-going audience with an awareness and a recognition that wasn’t there 50 or even 10 years ago.  Before, the audience was on the outside looking in, and that’s what created the mystique, the attraction, like stopping to see a car accident because it hadn’t happened to you.

Today, though, we watch because we relate all too well.  We have walked in those shoes a little too intimately.  We know too well what divorce has done to ourselves and to our children.  We know how adultery damages hearts from the inside out.  We witness callousness and its effects firsthand rather than going to the dark theater to see what it’s like.

And so, more and more, our movies reflect more and more our homes and our families and their disintegration and how we are suffering and hurting.

There are a lot of other films out there that deal with other topics, of course, so don’t get me wrong: you can go see “Moneyball” and enjoy a film that deals with the metaphor of baseball and risk and doing something that stretches you beyond what you think might work.  You can see a movie like “The Ides of March” which has nothing to do with family but is a politically oriented story.  There’s “Hugo” and “Bridesmaids,” with nary a screwy dysfunctional aunt or uncle around unless you count a young boy living in a train station undetected or a bunch of women carrying on like high school boys.  And there’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” about a family that couldn’t be more loving, in the midst of the tragedy of 9/11.

But the two films I mention in this blog are definitely about dysfunctional people, dysfunctional families, and my thesis is that

there are more of them in films now than ever before.

Do you agree or disagree?  I’d love to hear what you have to say.


  1. Haven’t seen the movies you were mentioning but did get a chance with Megan and her class to see Hugo and loved it. The book is being used as curriculum at HIllcrest . The book is half pictures and half text. The students have to figure out some of the story based on what they see in the pictures. Wonderful story . They we went on You Tube afterwards and saw Georges Melies films. Love your blog as always.

  2. Interesting that you mention this. Mark and attempted to watch City Island. After about 20 minutes, I realized that it was hating the experience. It was just an ugly glimpse into people whose lives had no meaning, no hope and no happiness. Perhaps that was the point of the movie. I don’t know because interned it off. But it certianly didn’t do what movies are supposed to do: entertain. And, like you, Rita, I didn’t like a single person in the movie. And I wasn’t the least bit remorseful when I switched to Secretariat.

    • Unfortunately you should have watched more, April. This turned out to be a good movie, with an uplifting ending. I think you would have approved. Probably too late for you to go back and see it again. Take my word for it.

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