Think your family is crazy? Welcome to a very big club. Whether you’re dealing with unruly relatives at your annual holiday dinner – or just the usual, everyday family drama – get some perspective (and plenty of entertainment) by watching these films about truly dysfunctional families.
1. The Ice Storm
Buckle up for a bumpy night when you watch this mesmerizing drama from director Ang Lee. This film, based on the best-selling book by Rick Moody (The Hours), turns a cold lens on two dysfunctional suburban families caught up in the cultural void that was America in the 1970s.
As the adults distract themselves from political and local scandals by drinking and wife swapping, their under-parented children are left to find their own dangerous sex-and-violence tinged amusements. As a massive ice storm descends on their town, the characters - played by a stellar ensemble cast, including Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Elijah Wood, Tobey Maguire and Christina Ricci - inflict their small tortures on each other, moving toward a chilling and haunting conclusion.
2. Slums of Beverly Hills
In this funny, unusual coming-of age film, Vivian Abromowitz (Natasha Lyonne) is a teenage girl growing up within a very unusual family of "modern nomads." Vivian struggles to cope with constant change, as her unsuccessful car salesman father Murray (Alan Arkin) moves the family to a new cheap apartment every few months, skipping out on bad rent checks in the middle of the night, moving in a constant circle around the outskirts of Beverly Hills, so the kids can attend good schools.
Meanwhile, Vivian's body is also changing, and her reaction - and that of the boys and men around her - to her new womanly figure is both comic and familiar to anyone who's experienced puberty. When Vivian's rich uncle - whose charity Murray has long relied on - pays the family to take in Vivian's troubled and sexy cousin (Marisa Tomei), Vivian is thrilled to have another woman in the house, until things get even more complicated.
3. The Royal Tenenbaums
This multi-faceted dysfunctional family comedy comes from Wes Anderson, one of our great modern directors. Anderson's offbeat visual sensibility stamps everything in this super-stylish saga, whose costume designs spawned a score of hipster trends, from Gwyneth Paltrow's Lacoste shirtdresses and vintage furs (paired with raccoon eyeliner) to Ben Stiller's track suits. The story begins with Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman, in a Golden Globe-winning performance) telling his children that he's leaving the family. A couple of decades later, all three kids have experienced great success at a young age, but none have lived up to their early potential.
Meanwhile, the relationships between the siblings are odd at best, and in some cases downright creepy. Cue the flamboyant Royal, who enters their lives again - prompted by his own money troubles and the news that his ex-wife plans to marry again - with an ill-conceived scheme to win his family's affection back.
4. 8 Women
Imagine if Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston, Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlize Theron, Kate Hudson, Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts teamed up to star in a Christmas movie. That's essentially what happened in 8 Women, a chic and darkly funny French film set in the glamorous 1950s, whose stunning cast boasts eight of that country's most popular leading ladies of all time. As the Christmas holiday approaches, the women - including Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Virginie Ledoyen, Ludivine Sagnier, Danielle Darrieux, Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Béart and Firmine Richard - begin to arrive at their beautiful mansion in the French countryside. Soon, a murder is committed, and mystery and suspicion abound among the mothers, wives, mistresses, daughters and servants.
The film stands on its own as an enjoyable whodunnit with a great deal of comic flair. Fans of French film will get the extra thrill of watching these superstar actresses go up against each other in a series of confrontations, catfights and erotically-tinged scenes.
5. The Squid and the Whale
What's funny about a crumbling marriage whose fallout damages the family's two young sons? Nothing and everything is the answer, in this outstanding film about a failing dsyfunctional family. As the domestic disaster messily unfolds, the movie's tone alternates between tragedy and comedy in a way that feels tender, smart and eerily realistic. The story is told from the point of view of awkward 16-year-old Walt (Jesse Eisenberg, who would later go on to play another kind of misfit in The Social Network). Walt and his younger brother Frank struggle differently with their parents' divorce, and are pulled this way and that by their parents, who want their kids to choose sides. It's only when Walt starts seeing a caring psychologist that he's able to gain some perspective on his family history, and understand where his loyalties should lie.
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