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Top 10 Movies About Unusual Families

Ryan Thomas

“The times they are a-changing,” penned Dylan, making commentary on a flagrant cultural revolution. While the sixties were especially steeped in disrupted norms and contumacious individuals, it seems cultural revolution isn’t so rare or spectacular anymore. Technology innovates itself so quickly, and so frequently, that it’s reached a point of being underwhelming. Music always overthrows itself. And people are more open-minded and perceptive than ever. Traditions, like stubborn insects, die quickly, and it should be no shock to understand that the nuclear family isn’t as prevalent as it used to be (to the great, horrified dismay of a million republicans). Many kids have grown up in the arms of two same-sex parents, and many more celebrate Christmas twice. Dysfunction is the new function. Until everybody can get on board and get used to it, or inexorable old dogs die out in entirety, these ideas must be presented and made abundantly clear. Here are ten films that do just that.

10

World’s Greatest Dad

In this (at times) music video look-alike, written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, Robin Willams is the world’s greatest dad. Sorta. His maladjusted son, whom he raises as a single (dating) parent, accidentally commits suicide in the most embarrassing possible way. The result, Robin Williams’s character, a teacher with a dormant writing career, finds a new outlet as he exploits his dead son in order to defibrillate his writing career. He feigns releasing his dead son’s journal entries, as he simply rewrites his son’s own identity. His classmates come to understand him from “beyond the pale”, as his dad makes him out to be super thoughtful/likable/romantic. Williams, while erasing his son’s poor and/or negligible perception and fabricating a more ideal memory, feeds a double-edged lie that serves his own ego and reputation just as much. Great dad…

9

Step-Brothers

Okay, so this one is not, by any means, a realistic scenario: two mentally-regressed, unemployed forty-somethings become co-inhabiting step-siblings, as their single parents form a union and create the most dysfunctional family living under one roof. Key scene: when they attempt to build bunkbeds in order to free up space for “activities.” They both discover how much they have in common (i.e. watermelon karate, Shark Week and musical aspirations) and bond, as they are forced to grow up by a father figure on his last nerve, and even share a common enemy in Will Ferrel’s adjusted older brother (a brother who, while driving a totemic SUV, insists that his “perfect” family nail an acapella version of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” to perfect harmony).

8

The Squid and the Whale

This movie focuses on the subject of divorce, and the way it directly affects the children. Jeff Daniels is an elitist professor, his wife, Laura Linney, a writer. The dad drinks and vents unto his impressionable children, who lack proper social skills or behavioral conduct (the little son calls people “ass man” when he gets angry, and “seagulls” all over his school, while the older just can’t deal with girls properly). This movie is kinda twisted, remorselessly showing every uncomfortable detail in an imploding family’s terrible saga, but it is based on the true childhood of filmmaker, Noah Baumbach.

7

Precious

With a name like Precious, it comes as a cruel source of humiliation when her abusive mother screams it from behind an always playing television and always burning cigarette, before she throws a frying pan at the back of her head, concussively so. Her dad abuses her sexually, and also is the father of her own two children, one of whom is mentally retarded (common result of incest). All of this, and she is expected to make it through school without being teased for her weight. Thankfully, she finds redemption in the end…almost (won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, or read the book Push, from which the film is adapted). But she finds a kind of second family in her embracing classmates from her remedial class, who even stand by her as she gives birth to her father’s child (for whom her deranged mother envies her, taken symbolically as “her man” showing more “love” to Precious than her). See it and realize your family is more normal than you know.

6

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Directed by Martin Scorsese, this is one of the best movies he made not involving New York, Italian stereotypes or the mafia. No, this film follows a wannabe singer/single mother who takes her wide-eyed son around with her as she seeks a place to call home, as well as the comfort of strangers. While she settles with some flotsam to simply stay afloat, she ultimately seeks a father figure for her under-attended son. That complete package exists in the form of singer/song-writer Kris Kristofferson, who offers her what she wants and needs, but also provokes her mama bear instincts. This film makes for an interesting case study of a single parent, and all the tests and trials that come with the occupation.

5

Igby Goes Down

Aside from being a great Catcher in the Rye tribute, this movie has all the necessary ingredients to make an angsty teen lash out: a dad on the cusp of his own sanity, making Igby dress up and act like his own father; a mother who’s truly a heartless monster. As such, Igby resorts to pills and sneaking drags of pot while attending a military academy. He also seems to long for a mother figure who doesn’t exist in the form of his own, one with whom he can also engage romantically. Students of Freud would have a field day watching this film, noting every instance of the Oedipus complex surfacing.

4

The Ice Storm

Ang Lee apparently loves to watch families fail; the Ice Storm shows parents, of two families in particular, who behave like children, teaching less than acting on impulse. Drinking and cheating, they avoid serious responsibility in spite of work, and thus provide little direction for misguided children. Elijah Wood seems to take literally the worst of what terrible teachings he’s given, standing as a personification of easy suggestion and confusion (his class presentation shows it all). Tragedy is made tangible with the onslaught of a record-breaking eponymous ice storm, which is inevitably what it takes to snap everyone back to reality, a necessary whiplash. Such is only in accordance with real life.

3

Brokeback Mountain

Another by Ang Lee, this gay cowboy romance flick highlights the imperfections of a traditional value-oriented heterosexual marriage. When Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar express themselves upon each other one night while doing shepherd work, their inescapable passions let their respective marriages dissolve. As they continually sneak off to go “fishing” with one another, the taboos of their actions disrupt their otherwise pitch-perfect lifestyles. Boils comes to head when locals catch on to that which is aggressively forbidden in 1963 Wyoming. The ending is starkly tragic, and perhaps a cause for relinquishing ignorant habits and letting some traditions stay in the past, in some horrifying View-Master slide.

2

American Beauty

The Facade of Suburbia is a theme Sam Mendes specializes and thrives in. This movie is a modern American classic focusing on what seethes beneath the surface of a “picture-perfect” family, and it’s certainly not happiness. Adultery, voyeuristic fantasy, decadence and loathing are what, more often than not, can be found. Dad, masturbating in the shower, reveals that that is the “high point” in his day. He later quits his phone-answering job to smoke pot, lift weights and work at a fast food place. Career Mom, amidst a crying meltdown, slaps herself in the face while screaming “Stop it, stop it, you baby!” after failing to sell a house (she’s a real estate agent). Neighbors include a happy, functioning gay couple and a hardcore military dad who is repulsed by them. The over-bearing ex-marine is completely unaware that the son, who’s nothing like him, sells pot and videotapes the neighbor girl. American Beauty is literally a neighborhood unto itself, capturing glimpses of the different ways a family can be…and crumble.

1

Running with Scissors

This is an extremely unusual but brilliant film about a young boy whose parents break up due to his father’s alcoholism and his mother’s unstable behavior. The boy, Augusten Burroughs, is farmed out to his mother’s therapist (Dr Finch) who has an equally bizarre and unstable family – featuring a gay older son (who ends up in a relationship with 14 year old Burroughs – with the apparent blessing of everyone in the film) and two sisters – both of whom are equally strange. To top it off, Finch is crazy and his wife is on the verge of insanity. The film features amazing performances from Annette Bening and Gwyneth Paltrow. It is a definite must-see if you haven’t. Oh – and to top it off, it is based on a true story.

+

Toy Story

As a kid you don’t pick up on it. As an adult, it’s undeniable: this story, which at first glance is about a trunk full of toys that come to life when all the humans disappear, reveals the life a child’s imagination can take (as well as his toys) when he lacks the emotional support of a father figure, a father who is suspiciously absent throughout this movie. When Andy has a birthday party and goes to a Pizza Planet, you wonder why his father never seems able to accompany. When he moves, it’s just him and his mom, (his toys) and his sighs. The sequels play up feelings of abandonment, felt by toys whose owners become too old to play with them. How like putting your kids up for adoption a garage sale suddenly becomes.