By Ann Silverthorn
When I was a kid, the youngest and often lonely child, I drew pictures of families—the people all standing in a row facing front like paper dolls. I’d tell my parents about each member of these imaginary families—including the pets.
When my husband-to-be and I attended a weekend engagement retreat, one of the activities asked us to compare how many children we wanted. I said six. He said two. I married him anyway. We managed to pop out two kids in quick succession, but then I had to negotiate for the third. With those three kids, I knew I had reached my level of incompetency, so when the urge came for fourth, I went back to school instead.
It probably comes as no surprise, after the above soul-baring, that movies about families appeal to me over any other. Give me stories about the functional, dysfunctional, happy, tragic, extended, or nuclear family, and I’m riveted. So, I thought I’d share with you seven of my favorite family movies.
In this film, Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan play divorced parents who are so self-absorbed that they neglect their young daughter. Onata Aprile, as Maisie, was only six when the movie was filmed, and she deftly portrays a character who is vulnerable, yet resilient. This is a brilliant adaptation of the 1897 Henry James novel of the same name, which is well worth reading.
Parenting is tough, and it’s tougher yet when one of the parents struggles with bipolar disorder. After a father (Mark Ruffalo) is hospitalized, and because he has no job, the mother (Zoe Saldana), must support the family. When she’s accepted to Columbia to begin her MBA, she leaves the children with their father, whose parenting style is unconventional, but full of good intentions.
What happens when a husband (Joel Edgerton) and wife (Jennifer Garner), who can’t conceive, write down all the qualities their hoped-for child would have and bury those wishes in a box under a tree? In this case, a child (CJ Adams) grows from those wishes. Although this film didn’t receive critical acclaim, I gave it five stars. It will tug at your heart as the couple gives total acceptance to their odd little boy and learns something important from the experience.
When a young woman decides to get married and the planning begins, this father is left with little to do except wonder where the time went. A remake of a classic 1950 comedy, this version has become a classic itself. In it, Steve Martin plays a character who does not want to let his daughter go, and Diane Keaton plays the mother who has so much fun planning the extravagant nuptials, she nearly forgets that her husband is more than just a checkbook.
Family drama, tragedy, infidelity, and jealousy all come together in this film starring Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger. A children’s-book writer hires an assistant (Jon Foster) for the summer, and the assistant finds himself in the dearth of dysfunction resulting from the deaths of the couple’s two teenage sons. The young surviving daughter, played by Elle Fanning, lives in the shadow of her brothers, who although deceased, are very much present in the many photographs that dominate the home.
Mrs. Brady (Shelley Long) lives the good life with her salad family until a man who claims to be her first husband shows up, threatening her storybook world. If Carol’s husband is alive, then are she and Mike (Gary Cole) really married? And if they aren’t married, does this mean that Marcia and Greg can finally be together? For anyone who watched the Brady Bunch television series, there are plenty of throwbacks in this film, such as Jan’s George Glass, mysterious artifacts, and crack detective work performed by the youngest Bradys.
Any discussion of family movies must include the relationship between sisters, in this case played by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. When their parents sell their childhood home, all that’s left to do is clean out the room they shared. And since they’re back home and plenty of their old classmates still remain in town, the sisters decide to have one last bash. All the drama and destruction that teenage party movies celebrate are present in Sisters, but these are adults—acting like teens. It’s lots of fun until it’s time to survey the damages.