Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Anne Renton's THE PERFECT FAMILY gives Kathleen Turner a nice role -- but little else

It's great to see Kathleen Turner up on-screen again, in a leading role that she grabs with gusto, making it her own, while leading us through a set of nicely specific changes in attitude and belief that have taken her character, by movie's end, somewhere quite different than she was at its beginning. A little programmatic (well, a lot, actually), these changes nonetheless present a kind of guidepost as to the direction in which The Catholic Church must move if it has any real desire to serve its flock -- rather than its coffers, the income from which keeps the powerful in place. What? It hasn't? Well, then, never mind.

The first full-length film to be directed by Anne Renton, shown at right, (it was written by Paula Goldberg and Claire V. Riley), THE PERFECT FAMILY is a fantasy/sit-com about the possibility of change. As usually happens in fantasy sitcoms, that change comes all too easily and far too soon. What keeps the movie even somewhat grounded and the viewer's eyes from constantly rolling is Ms Turner's performance as a "good Catholic mother" who is suddenly up for nomination as her local parish's prize designation of the Catholic Woman of the Year.

Because this would mean that not just Eileen (Ms Turner, above) but her entire family will have to be up-to-snuff as "good Catholics," a whitewashing of sorts will have to take place. Rather than go into any detail, we'll let the movie surprise you with the particulars. Suffice it to say that these are not wildly original.

Nor is anything much more than standard-plot-procedure done with the stories and characters of Eileen's son Frank, Jr. (played by Jason Ritter, above) and daughter Shannon (Emily Deschanel -- shown below, left, with Angelique Cabral). This makes it a bit difficult for the actors to "shine" in these roles. They're perfectly OK, but little more. (Fans of Mr. Ritter, myself included, are in store for a simply terrific performance from this fine young actor next week -- when his movie A Bag of Hammers opens.)

The dad of the family gets less notice, but that works better for the character -- a quiet, reformed alcoholic who still loves his wife but is growing less tolerant of her religious ways. As played by Michael McGrady, below, this guy's quiet decency shines through nicely, and his character seems the least sit-comish of the pack --

-- which includes Richard Chamberlain, below, right, welcomely understated as the parish priest,

and Sharon Lawrence, below, as the Eileen's primary competition for the prize. Ms Lawrence is a fine actress, but saddled with this one-note role, she can do little more than hammer the clichés home. She's not allowed a trace of genuine humanity, and while this may make it easier to find fault and have fun at her expense, it only adds to the movie's air of unreality.

Though she cannot hide the obviousness of her role and the film in general, Ms Turner consistently rises above things by letting us see the struggle going on below her surface. The director and her writers give the character enough moments of thoughtfulness and pondering (or perhaps the actress simply grabbed them) that we see her wrestling hard with what is going on -- and accepting, with difficulty, the changes that arrive bit by bit.

It is good to see all these actors at work and doing their best, but despite this, by the finale, you are really wishing the film could have been better. The Perfect Family opens this Friday, May 4, in New York City at the AMC Empire 25, and in the Los Angeles area on Friday, May 11, at the Laemmle's Monica 4-plex, Pasadena Playhouse 7 and Encino Town Center 5, and at
AMC's Burbank Town Center 8.  I am told that you can also view it -- starting this Friday, May 4th -- via VOD.  Check your local TV-reception provider for details.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

what does anne renton or paula goldberg know about catholicism..why don't they take on woody allen and roman polanski...this they know already

James van Maanen said...

Good question. Another one might be: Don't you know your own name, Anon? Or don't you like it enough to use it?

I don't really know what Ms Renton and Ms Goldberg know about Catholicism -- or for that matter what I myself know, since I have never been a member of that religion and only view it from outside. But that does not mean outsiders can't take stock and form their views and present them. And since Catholicism is one hell of a lot larger and more powerful internationally than either Woody or Roman, it is also more of a deserving target. I just wish the director and writer had been able to aim a little better.