The Perfect Family, opening in theaters May 4th, is a great attempt at indie filmmaking that ends up feeling way too much like something you would see on Lifetime. It is not that it is a bad movie, just highly predictable and full of cliché moments.
The story centers on Eileen Cleary, played by the usually great Kathleen Turner. Cleary is a devout conservative Catholic who was raised in the church of her small town. Within minutes of the opening credits her Monsignor tells her that she is being considered for the prestigious Catholic Woman of the Year award. The film wastes no time getting to the plot, which is surprising considering how little time I felt it spent on fully developing the characters.
The deciding factor on whether or not she will be chosen for the award is a meeting with the Bishop and her family. Unlike Cleary, the rest of her family is not nearly as conservative. Her husband is a former alcoholic; her son is having an affair; and her daughter is about to marry another woman. While all of these subplots are interesting, none of them get the attention they deserve.
Instead, director Anne Renton leaves the focus completely on Cleary to the point where we never actually get to meet the wife her son hates so much or get glimpses of her husband losing faith in the marriage. When these things finally do happen, it feels as if they come out of nowhere for the audience because we never got the chance to deal with the problem much less the consequences.
You have to wonder about a film that adds a character with no explanation as to why they are there! Such is the case with Cleary’s friend or sister or, who knows, because it’s never explained, played by Shannon Cochran. Turner uses Cochran as a confidant but Cochran never speaks to anyone else in the film. She shows up at her house when Cleary is alone and easily disappears into the background the rest of the time, never taking an active role in the plot. It got to the point where you had to wonder whether or not Cochran is some sort of imagined alter ego, and the audience is never given a clear answer. It is one of the many subplots of the film that is left unresolved by the credits.
The only real redeeming performance comes from Emily Deschanel, who manages to add depth and sincerity to the script. Deschanel must not only deal with having to tell her conservative catholic mother that she is gay but also have her be at her wedding and through all the problems of childbirth. At more than one point, you get the feeling that she has been cornered and truly wants out of a family that does not understand her problems. While Turner takes the deer in headlights approach, Deschanel goes the opposite route making her one of the few characters with real depth in the film.
Turner turns in a much less intense performance than you would imagine for someone who is having her faith questioned at every turn. It is as if Renton told her to show as little emotion as possible, and that works against her character. While the plot may be simple, there could have been a lot of room to move and delve deeper into some new territory. Instead, much of it feels rehashed and the small town setting is just begging to be on some made-for-TV movie.
This is the kind of movie you go to with your grandma or conservative mother because the last thing you want to do is take them to something that would accidently offend them. It’s a safe movie that never colors outside the lines. Given the subject matter The Perfect Family could have been a great film. Instead, it settles for being mediocre and no audience should settle for that.