Dysfunctional Families

For most of us there is some dysfunctional element to our families, and for better or worse, we have to endure those idiosyncrasies this time of year. However, in the end it could always be worse, and one of the best ways to remind your self is enduring someone else's misery via a film. Some of the greatest films have revolved around a dysfunctional family narrative, whether they are a family by blood, or one by choice. So we have decided to list some of our favorite dysfunctional family films below, and hopefully you will find one that alleviates some of the familial stress from this time of year.

 

ambersonsThe Magnificent AmbersonsAfter Citizen Kane Orson Welles moved on to adapt Booth Tarkington's 1918 Pulitzer Prize winning novel about a wealthy family living in Indianapolis, Indiana at the turn of the 20th Century. The Ambersons revolves around Eugene Morgan and his pursuit of the Ambersons' daughter Isabel, who instead marries the boring Wilbur Minafer. After Wilbur dies Eugene asks Isabel for her hand in marriage, which she gives, but Isabel's only son George, who is a spoiled brat, is determined with his Aunt Fanny to ruin the marriage. Unfortunately, Welles' vision for the film was compromised while away in South America filming another film, but nonetheless the film still holds up as an American classic, and was selected by the Library of Congress for the National Film Registry.

 

Hannah and Her SistersWoody Allen is known for his penetrating observations of dysfunctional people, and especially families, but it is this equally humorous and dramatic film, which manages to be one of his most bittersweet. The film tells three different stories over a period of two years, and begins and ends with a Thanksgiving dinner being hosted by Hannah, played by Mia Farrow. The family in this film includes Hannah, and her husband Elliot, played by Michael Caine (in an Academy Award winning performance), and her two sisters Holly and Lee played by Dianne Wiest (in an Academy Award winning performance) and Barbara Hershey. Eventually Hannah's husband Elliot begins an affair with Lee that is doomed from the beginning, meanwhile Holly continues to fail both romantically and professionally as an actress. This leads to a good deal of bitterness from Holly towards Hannah, who seems to have it all. There is also an alcoholic mother with a history of infidelities thrown in for good measure.

 

squidSquid and the WhaleNothing brings out the dysfunction in families quite like divorce, and no film manages to capture the bitterness of that situation quite like this one from Noah Baumbach. The film is a period piece set in 1980's Brooklyn and tells the story of two boys named Frank (Owen Kline) and Walt (played by a young Jesse Eisenberg), whose bohemian parents Joan and Bernard, played by Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels, are divorcing and not in a congenial manner at all. This situation takes its toll on Frank and Walt with both of them acting out in negative ways. It also doesn't help that their competitive father begins to take interest in one of his students who is renting a room at their house. While the film is definitely dark, it is not without its great moments of humor, and manages to capture a tumultuous situation with painful accuracy.

 

A Christmas TaleNot only does this film fit in perfectly with the theme, it also manages to fit perfectly with the holiday season. Often holiday films have a plot thread that revolves around estranged families coming together with overtly saccharine moments and bitter arguments, but this film manages to truly transcend the trappings of the genre. In this film the Vuillard family matriarch played by Catherine Deneuve has been diagnosed with Leukemia, and her estranged son Henri has returned home for the first time in years. While you could see this amounting to nothing more than the conventions of similar films, it does manage to infuse the genre with a dark honesty that goes farther than any similar holiday film before it. This film is another bittersweet holiday classic.

 

There are so many other great examples we left out from Wes Anderson's The Royal TenenbaumsDouglas Sirk's melodrama Imitation of Life, and the Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney lead The Savages. All are worth your time, and can be found in our collection.

We welcome your respectful and on-topic comments and questions in this limited public forum. To find out more, please see Appropriate Use When Posting Content. Community-contributed content represents the views of the user, not those of St. Louis Public Library