Helping You Get the Most Out of Your Misery
Saturday, November 03, 2007
All in the Family
When we're not base-jumping or playing high-stakes baccarat in Monte Carlo, my wife and I enjoy taking in the occasional movie. I mean, it's not like that's all we ever do for entertainment or anything. We are so incredibly active. Busy, busy, busy. Yup.
So last night, because American Gangster was sold out, we went to see the new Steve Carell movie, Dan in Real Life.
Both of us had been what you might call hesitant to see this one. The poster, after all, shows Carell resting his head on a stack of pancakes. I can't abide anyone being disrespectful of flapjacks. Additionally, the previews made the film look like a real corn syrup kind of picture, so I added it to my No list.
Then I read a bunch of reviews that all expressed similar pleasant surprise. The movie, they said, was not the treacle one might expect. Neither, these critics said, was the presence onscreen of Dane Cook a motivator for slicing open one's wrists while in the audience. After getting this go-ahead from critics, and because of our fondness for Steve Carell, we took a chance.
And I've got to say the movie didn't suck. Carell was actually really good and I liked his relationship with Juliet Binoche. Dane Cook's performance was, for me, reminiscent of Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential, in that I didn't want to slap him every second he was onscreen, unlike most of my other encounters with him.
In fact, the movie was actually--predictability aside--pretty good.
The one thing I really had a problem with was that it had a bad case of FPFS. FPFS, for those of you not in the know, is Fictional Perfect Family Syndrome. It's a horrific disease that strikes writers, who are, through hideous dementia, driven to create family dynamics in their movies that would never, ever exist in real life.
The family in Dan in Real Life comes together every year to help close up their parents' beachfront home in Rhode Island. And they're all really happy to see each other. And they eat every meal together and they play touch football and they race each other at crosswords and they wake up and join each other on the lawn for aerobics and they have a fucking talent show.
None of them harbor resentment because the parents spent more on their brother's college education than on theirs. None of them hate their siblings' spouses. None of them seem to be itching to get the fuck away from there, even for a second.
Now, in the name of full disclosure--and before my mother's blood-pressure shoots through the roof--I should say here that both of my parents come from families as large as the Fictional Perfect Family in Dan in Real Life. Growing up, we spent a lot of time with both sides of the family and everyone enjoyed each others' company and we played board games and volley ball and had a great time. But it wasn't perfect.
There were arguments here and there. My sister and cousins and I had to bug the adults for fucking hours before we could get a game started. There were certainly no aerobics done on the lawn. And if you'd suggested a talent show, you would have been written out of the will.
This is how it should be. Families are not perfect. They're just not. If they seem to be perfect, you can bet that there's something fucked-up underneath. So when a writer tries to create an ideal family, with awesome traditions and super-close relationships and just the right quirks, it always ends up looking like a woman with bad plastic surgery. You can tell what she was going for and, possibly it looks nice, but there's just something wrong about it.
So I'm going to beg all writers out there: whatever you think the ideal family would be, never, ever write it.