by staff on September 20, 2016
Under: Movie & Television
At some point everyone has made like Kevin McCallister from Home Alone and wished that somehow their family could magically disappear. For most of us though, it’s just a fleeting thought. But for the unlucky souls who find themselves portrayed as part of one of Hollywood’s dysfunctional families, the disintegration of the family that haunts them might be seem like their only hope for happiness left. Here then are ten of the movie world’s most distressing families.
Comedically dysfunctional rather than disturbing, the Griswald tribe like nothing more than coming together for the holidays — for any holiday — and celebrating by suffering through an almighty series of calamities. So what begins as high-spirited trip to the Walley World theme park quickly flies off the rails as the family, cooped up together in a car for hours on end, turn bickering and the pursuit of bad luck into an artform, all capped with Clark Griswald flirting with going full-on loco. As an ultimate kicker, by the time the Griswalds arrive at Walley World they discover it’s closed for essential repairs. D’oh, as another dysfunctional family would likely say.
Divorce can ruin any family, and when Bernard and Joan Berkman go through the process it takes a devastating toll on their two kids, Walt and Frank, who soon find themselves siding with different parents. The split isn’t an acrimonious one, with Joan deciding to date her youngest son’s tennis teacher, and Bernard shacking up with one of the students that he teaches. Adding tension to an already finished marriage, Joan’s career as a writer takes off as Bernard’s grinds to a halt. The boys go through internal despair, which soon manifests itself in their school life: Frank masturbates and leaves his semen over library books while Walt begins to construct a series of elaborate lies which culminate in claiming he wrote the song “Hey Joe.” The film’s backdrop of the quaint, tree-lined brownstone streets of Brooklyn, only makes the Berkman’s disintegration even more morose.
To escape from the tyranny of a psychologically abusive father, Muriel Heslop dreams of planning the ultimate glamorous wedding and snaring herself a husband who’ll whisk her away from her tawdry existence. She’s not alone, with her mom, Betty, also frequently finding herself on the receiving end of father Bill’s barbs and put-downs. In the end, Muriel uses a blank check tied to her father’s account to steal off on a tropical vacation with her best friend Rhonda. Fleeing from a stifling home life is a recurring theme when it comes to Hollywood’s take on dysfunctional families, but by the end of the movie Muriel realizes that her problems are as much based around self-esteem as the environment she grew up in. Of course, depending on your musical disposition it’s the soundtrack, which leans heavily on Swedish pop sensations Abba, that might be the most dysfunctional thing about the whole flick.
Forging a path for depressed eccentricity, the Tenenbaums prove that an abundance of money and status is little help in creating a strong and harmonious family unit. While on his death bed, Royal Tenenbaum tries to make amends for being a less than stellar parent to his kids, but as he still can’t remember his daughter’s middle name it’s hardly a case of high reconciliation. With charming themes like incest and contemplations of suicide also swarming around the Tenenbaum homestead, it’s no surprise that Royal’s idea of a fun day out involves asking, "Anybody interested in grabbing a couple of burgers and hittin’ the cemetery?"
f you can judge a family’s dysfunctional rating by the number of members who contemplate committing suicide, then the Lisbons rule the roost. Thanks to father Ronald’s cruel controlling ways, his five daughters get together and connive to top themselves. The suicides unroll one-by-one: First, youngest sister Cecilia kills herself by jumping out of her bedroom window and impaling herself on a metal fence railing, before Bonnie hangs herself in the basement, Therese overdoses on pills, Mary uses the oven to gas herself, and Lux plumps for the classic end move of inducing carbon monoxide poisoning by leaving the car running while the garage door is shut tight. Unsurprisingly, the Lisbon parents soon move out of the neighborhood, leaving behind a morbid mystery for the local community to come to fathom out.
Any family that willingly enters their child into a beauty pageant could be accused of being dysfunctional right off the bat, but as the Hoover family take a road-trip to pimp out their daughter Olive far more distressing layers emerge: There’s Frank, a suicidal brother who just happens to be an expert in the philosopher Proust, a husband who’s put all his faith in his patented nine-step self-improvement technique, and a son who just so happens to have taken a vow of silence. Throw in a family history that takes in mental disorder and class A drug addiction, and you’ve the most dour and depressing road trip you could ever map out.
"So what if I slept with his brother? He slept with his sister!" So yells Tori Spelling’s Lesly character in a moment of desperation after she travels with her fiance to his home for what should be a regular Thanksgiving feast only to stumble into a warped and very bitchy world. Chief architect of the dysfunction is Parker Posey’s Jacqueline Pascal creation, who has both deluded herself into thinking that she’s Jackie-O and has also become absolutely obsessed with her brother; seeing him bring his bride-to-be home is enough to propel her into a murderous rage. Even the impending hurricane pales next to the tumultuous disorder that ensues over the holiday.
Dysfunctional or just extremely eccentric? Either way, the story of Jackie Kennedy’s long-forgotten aunt and cousin is a marvel of strange cohabitation. Living in a Hampton’s mansion that has been left to fall into major disrepair, the two women, who are both named Edith and refer to themselves as Big and Little Edie, get through the day by sitting in bed, dressing up in curious clothes, and partaking in queer conversation like Big Edie’s observation that, “The cat’s going to the bathroom right right in back of my portrait.” The documentary also features a co-starring role from a raccoon, and a persistent belief that the only good men out there are Sagittarians.
Sam Mendes’s American Beauty hits all the right components for a dysfunctional modern American family: There’s a father who attempts to deal with a mid-life crisis by cultivating a crush on his daughter’s best friend, a money-obsessed, ultra-ambitious wife who works in the soulless realm of real estate, and a daughter who displays a startling array of personal insecurities. It’s not long before Lester, the father, goes off the rails, first losing his job, then splashing out on a sports car, working out in an attempt to woo the girl next door, and even dabbling with smoking weed. While this is going on, his one-time bond with his wife is severed even further when she starts an affair, all the while chipping away at her daughter’s esteem by asking her questions like, “Are you trying to look unattractive?” Spoiler: The whole shebang doesn’t exactly make for the happiest of endings.
Not just traditionally dysfunctional but also straight-up psychotic, this unruly inbred clan stars a deformed cannibalistic serial killer who insists on calling himself Leatherface, and a macabre matriarch who does little to set her brood on the straight and narrow. Residing in the backwoods of Texas, they bandy together to indulge in the sport of human hunting and sell the spoils of their bounty as BBQ meat at a gas station they run. Reinforcing the family’s esteemed history of devilish acts, mass murdered Grandpa Sawyer is said to have reached an age of well over 100 years old by sipping on the blood of his victims. Having found Leatherface abandoned in a dumpster, mother Luda May is naturally protective of her strange kid. But with the number of innocent victims the family has totted up, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for her when she opines, “Always cruelty and ridicule for my boy! Well does anyone care about me and my boy?” Whether socially, criminally or morally, this family leads the pack in dysfunctional deeds.