Review of The Perfect Family


Movie Review: "The Perfect Family" --

Rating: PG-13
Length: 84 minutes
Release Date: April 24, 2011
Directed by: Anne Renton
Genre: Comedy and Drama
Rating: 3 out of 5

"The Perfect Family" tells the story of a mother who struggles to accept her decidedly less-than-perfect family. Starring Kathleen Turner, Emily Deschanel and Jason Ritter, the movie pokes fun at the façade that many families feel pressured to create-and the freedom that comes from dropping the pretense.

The story centers on Eileen Cleary (Kathleen Turner), the ideal Catholic mother and wife. Eileen never misses a mass, serves the other members of her congregation, helps the priest, and devoutly follows her religion. In recognition of her efforts, she is nominated for the "Catholic Woman of the Year" award.

In order to receive the coveted award, however, Eileen and her family must prove that they are all up to the church's standards. Soon after the announcement, she finds out that her family is anything but perfect. A gay daughter, a grandchild conceived out of wedlock and a soon-to-be-divorced son act as speed bumps on Eileen's fast track to Catholic success. With clergy interviews on the horizon, she goes into disaster-cleanup mode, attempting to "fix" her family to the church's satisfaction.

Kathleen Turner shows off her considerable acting chops in "The Perfect Family." She is the embodiment of the stereotypical guilty Catholic, trying desperately to compensate for her earthly shortcomings-and, in this case, those of her family. Turner shines in her role, providing an endless supply of genuine wit. Her honesty comes through in every scene, and her character's enthusiasm and piety is believable. Her shortfall, however, is the script; even a talented actress like Turner can do only so much with weak material.

The supporting cast delivers an excellent ensemble performance, creating a solid foundation for Turner's star performance. Emily Deschanel plays Shannon, a lesbian who is about to have a child. Her fiancée, Angela (Angelique Cabral), appears suddenly on the scene, and divorcee-to-be Frank (Jason Ritter) is a definite thorn in his mother's side. Together, the three provide no end of shock for the pious Eileen, who is too blinded by her Catholic morality to see their beauty. Deschanel, Cabral and Ritter give masterful, nuanced performances that add a touch of realism and humanity to the movie. Deschanel, in particular, is the perfect foil to Turner's uptight character. Her performance is subtle and understated but perfectly communicates the trials of a gay daughter in a devout Catholic family. Michael McGrady delivers a sweet, admirable performance as Frank, Eileen's long-suffering husband. His gentle mannerisms and understanding behavior constitute the foundation of the movie.

The script for "The Perfect Family" tries to break the mold for movies that criticize religion. It makes a promising start but falls short along the way. In order to stand out from the crowd in a sea of so-so movies, a script must have the right combination of affection and sarcasm; "The Perfect Family" does not make the cut. After a few lively and bold attempts, the jokes lose their steam-or, more likely, the writers lost their confidence. Writers Paula Goldberg and Claire V. Riley cannot seem to reconcile their contempt for the Catholic Church with their fear of retribution, imagined or otherwise. The jokes are neither offensive nor particularly funny. After a while, the movie turns away from religious conflicts and focuses instead on the family drama.

In the end, "The Perfect Family" focuses on the film's moral message. Instead of the promised treatise on the shortcomings of a strict religion in an increasingly progressive society, the filmmakers push a message of acceptance. While it is an admirable goal, the method feels a bit heavy handed at times. Viewers may feel that they were misled; instead of a fast, funny comedy, they will find themselves in a solemn drama. The movie itself is not a problem, but the marketing may have led the film astray.

Director Anne Renton adds a touch of class and polish to the movie, which is her first directorial project. Her camera work is smooth and uncluttered, giving the film a sense of sophistication and elegance that transcends the script and story. Renton has a talent for setting up each scene to support the characters, show them at their best and create a specific mood.

Overall, "The Perfect Family" offers an enjoyable moviegoing experience. Although it does not break any new ground in the irreverent religious movie genre, it is sweet and touching and offers a heartwarming look at the modern family.