Rogue 10: Ten Outwardly Normal But Really Dysfunctional Movie Families

Thursday, 03 May 2012 16:20 Written by  iamrogue
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Rogue 10: Ten Outwardly Normal But Really Dysfunctional Movie Families

Families often present themselves socially as far more functional and enviable than they might be behind closed doors.  This goes from little touches, like cleaning up the house before company comes over, to devastating secrets, like a demented kid in the attic who subsists entirely off of fish heads.

The Perfect Family, hitting theaters this Friday, May 4th, dramatizes this tendency as a comedic drama.  In the film, directed by Anne Renton, Oscar nominee Kathleen Turner plays Eileen Cleary, a matriarch who is determined to demonstrate just how healthy and wholesome her family is in order to win a Catholic Woman of the Year award.  Her efforts put her at odds with her grown-up children as she attempts to win, even at the expense of her family and their struggles.

The film, which also stars Emily Deschanel, Richard Chamberlain, Jason Ritter, and Elizabeth Pena, provoked some discussion here at IAR.  So, with The Perfect Family arriving this week, we thought we'd present our latest Rogue 10, a list of ten cinematic families who appear ordinary at first glance, but who are hiding some very fundamental dysfunction.

Here, in no particular order, are our ten seemingly normal dysfunctional families:

The Tenenbaums, The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Inspired to some extent by J.D. Salinger's fictitious Glass family, the Tenenbaums don't actually seem ordinary.  They are, in fact, extraordinary, with Eveline having cultivated the talents of her two sons and adopted daughter, touting her preternaturally skilled, precocious littleuns as, "a family of geniuses."  Due largely to their self-involved son of a bitch father Royal, though, the grown-up Tenenbaum kids are all suffering from crippling arrested development. 

The Youngs, Houseguest (1995)

The family on whom Sinbad crashes and improves whilst pretending to be Dr. Derek Bond, DDS looks like a portrait of white-bred Clinton-Era suburban success, but our hero unearths plenty of horrific dysfunction just beneath the surface.  Dad Gary (the late, great Phil Hartman) is about to take a job that will decimate his wife's frozen yogurt shop, his teenage daughter is dating a womanizing caricature, and his attention-starved adolescent son's basketball skills are suffering.  The youngest daughter's got it all worked out, though, so that's good.

The Crosses, Chinatown (1974)

When private eye Jake Gittes's investigation in Roman Polanski's classic noir takes him from Evelyn Mulwray to her father, Noah Cross, played by legendary filmmaker John Huston.  Cross is a powerful man and suspicions about his business dealings are only natural, but the true nature of Noah's relationship with his daughter, and a woman named Katherine is downright shocking.

The McDonnoughs, Raising Arizona (1987)

Okay, it might seem a little odd that H.I. and his wife Edwina 'Ed' McDonnough are an ex-con and a policewoman, respectively, but H.I.'s reformed and their adopted son is just so cute.  Except little Nathan's not really adopted, he's a quintuplet stolen from local furniture magnate Nathan Arizona Sr.  Biology and the prejudices of others conspired to keep the McDonnoughs childless, and the pair just had too much happiness between the two of them not to share it with a critter of their own, so they stole one.  Actually, the obnoxious Glenn and Dot could even make this list, considering their status as swingers.

The Robinsons, The Graduate (1967)

Here's to you. Mrs. Robinson.  You, your oblivious, blustery husband, your beautiful daughter, and, of course, the titular college grad, Benjamin Braddock, with whom you're having a passionless affair.  That's not to lay it all at Mrs. Robinson's feet, particularly since the confused, awkward Ben goes and falls in love with her daughter, complicating what would otherwise have been a pretty straightforward series of indiscretions.

The Lisbons, The Virgin Suicides (1999)

What with their five gorgeous and perfect teenage daughters, the Lisbons are the subject of much speculation in their 1970s town.  When one daughter's suicide leads Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon (portrayed, coincidentally, by Kathleen Turner) to clamp down on the other four authoritatively, though, things pretty quickly get much, much worse for the sisters and the family as a whole.

The Parrs, The Incredibles (2004)

Having secret superpowers complicates life pretty significantly for the Parrs.  Trying to blend into normal suburban life just doesn't quite fit, especially for Bob, who pines for his days as Mr. Incredible, when he didn't have a beer belly and fought crime with aplomb.  It's only by embracing covert superheroics that family finds its groove, and while that might not be dysfunctional, it certainly makes the Parrs less ordinary than they appear.

The Corleones, The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974), The Godfather Part III (1990)

Maintaining equilibrium in a sprawling family has to be hard enough.  Add to that social prominence and wealth, it has to be damn near impossible.  Throw in the fact the family in Francis Ford Coppola's beloved epic are at the top of a massive mafia organization, and healthy familial dynamics go right out the window.  Just think about what happens to the marriage between Sonny and Kay, or, even more tragically, the relationship between Sonny and his ne'er do well brother Fredo.

The Friedmans, Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

This upper-middle class Long Island clan are the only real-life family on the list, and if you've seen the film, you'll know why.  The documentary is comprised largely of home video footage shot during the trial of father Arnold and 18 year-old son Jesse on charges of pedophilia and sexual abuse  There's an open question as to just how true many of allegations actually were, but there's also no denying some cringe-worthy tendencies from Arnold, and the trial cracks the family open along some deep, deep fault lines.

The Fitts, American Beauty (1999)


This could just as easily have been the Burnhams, the central family in Sam Mendes and Alan Ball's drama, but their new neighbors, the Fitts, are even less functional.  On the surface, they're a repressed and oddly staid trio, but the Fitts are dealing with some truly jacked up stuff.  Retired Marine Frank's discipline and homophobia hide his own self-loathing, while his wife Barbara's a scared, withdrawn cipher who spends most of her time staring off into the middle distance.  And their intense son Ricky is a misunderstood voyeur, a sensitive weed-dealer saving up for his great escape.

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