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7 best movies about dysfunctional families

Writer: Casey Chong


Rex (Woody Harrelson) and his family in "The Glass Castle".

Hollywood definitely has a thing or two about portraying dysfunctional families of different kinds in the cinema.

This year is no different, as Jeannette Walls' 2005 bestselling memoir receives a big-screen treatment in "The Glass Castle", a biography drama which stars Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts.


To mark this new entry, here are the seven best movies about dysfunctional families sorted by its year of release below.

1. "American Beauty" (1999)

Kevin Spacey and Mena Suvari in "American Beauty".

Long before Sam Mendes made his mark in two high-profile studio pictures that include "Skyfall" and "Spectre", the acclaimed English director had already earned his distinction through his directorial debut, "American Beauty". A darkly comic yet disturbing look at the seemingly pitch-perfect Burnham family (played by Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening alongside Thora Birch and Wes Bentley) living in a suburban American neighbourhood, "American Beauty" is a classy triumph for its meditative themes of midlife crisis and dysfunctional family. The movie won five Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Kevin Spacey and Best Original Screenplay for Alan Ball.

2. "The Royal Tenenbaums" (2001)

Meet the Tenenbaums.

Wes Anderson's offbeat look at the family reunion revolving the Tenenbaums marks the director's third feature following his critical successes in "Bottle Rocket" and "Rushmore". Blessed with a top-notch ensemble cast featuring the likes of Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller and a surprisingly scene-stealing performance by Kumar Pallana as the family's faithful butler, Wes Anderson successfully explored thematic issues like incest, drug addiction and suicide told under the guise of his signature blend of deadpan humour and eccentric storytelling method.

3. "Little Miss Sunshine" (2006)

(L-R) The Hoover family: Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Paul Dano,
Toni Collette and Abigail Breslin in "Little Miss Sunshine".

Tagging along with the Hoover family (led by Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette) on a 800-mile road trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Redondo Beach, California on their shambling Volkswagen yellow van has never been this wonderfully poignant in "Little Miss Sunshine", one of the best road movies ever released in recent years. Blessed with a thoughtful script by Michael Arndt, the movie speaks volumes about heart and humanity beneath the messy outlook of the Hoover family. It's the kind of movie that sticks with you like a real-life journey where we witness the Hoovers learning to love, respect and accept each other regardless how dysfunctional they are as a family. "Little Miss Sunshine" also marks the directorial debut of the husband-and-wife team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who both cut their teeth helming music videos and commercials. Not to mention the movie is famous for a then-10 year old Abigail Breslin in her breakthrough performance as Olive, the youngest member of the Hoover family who dreamed of competing in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in California.

4. "Rachel Getting Married" (2008)

Anne Hathaway in "Rachel Getting Married".

To the eyes of most general audiences, the late Jonathan Demme was forever associated with his seminal work in the Oscar-winning psychological thriller, "The Silence Of The Lambs". But Demme is more of a studio director who's equally capable in tackling small-scale projects such as this one in "Rachel Getting Married", an indie drama about the wild ups-and-downs of the Buchman family during the wedding weekend. At the centre of this drama is a recovering drug addict Kym, who returns home from the rehab to attend her titular sister's wedding (Rosemarie DeWitt). The Kym in question is Anne Hathaway, who delivers a radical side of her otherwise squeaky-clean image she used to project in "The Princess Diaries". Here, Hathaway proves she can play a meaty yet complex role after previously hinted in the little-seen "Havoc" and of course, her memorable minor appearance in "Brokeback Mountain". Her layered performance is well-deserved to be nominated for Best Actress in the Academy Awards, in which she eventually lost to Kate Winslet for "The Reader".

5. "Dogtooth" (2009)

There is nothing conventional about the portrayal of these teenagers' life in "Dogtooth".

Of all the movies listed here, "Dogtooth" easily ranks as the most controversial movie that centres on a dysfunctional family. Perhaps the word "dysfunctional" is too kind for a Yorgos Lanthimos' movie, a disturbing Greek thriller about three teenagers living in a total isolation that disconnects them from the outside world. Unlike other normal teenagers, they have to adhere to the strict rules of their overprotective parents (Christos Stergioglou, Michele Valley) while their past times are basically something that involves masochism. "Dogtooth" is clearly not for everyone. Some may feel repulsive by the cruel depiction of how the parents treat their children in this movie. But those who are daring enough to see something out of the ordinary, "Dogtooth" is a one-of-the-kind experience you don't really see every day. The movie was a hit at the film festivals around the world and even won both the Award of the Youth and Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

6. "Silver Linings Playbook" (2012)

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in "Silver Linings Playbook".

Based on the novel of the same name by Matthew Quick, "Silver Linings Playbook" is a feel-good movie that sees writer-director David O. Russell returning to his quirky comedy roots after a brief stint in the acclaimed boxing drama, "The Fighter". The story revolves around a troubled former substitute teacher named Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper), who returns to his parents' (Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver) home in Philadelphia after spending eight months in the Baltimore mental institution for his severe case of bipolar disorder. As Pat tries to reconcile with his wife Nikki (Brea Bee), he ends up making friends with a troubled widow named Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). The premise itself, from the dysfunctional family theme to mental illness, is nothing new, but the way Russell manages to draw genuine laughs from his frequently entertaining and witty script is downright impressive. Kudos also go to the amazing ensemble cast all around, with highlights from the typically charismatic Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, who delivers an Oscar-winning performance as the tough and sassy Tiffany.

7. "Captain Fantastic" (2016)

Viggo Mortensen leads the pack in "Captain Fantastic".

Don't get fooled by the title. Despite the obvious words of "Captain" and "Fantastic" in the same sentence, this isn't a superhero movie of any kind. Instead, it's a quirky comedy-drama that involves an unconventional family (led by Viggo Mortensen) who raised his six children off the grid in the wild. At the heart of "Captain Fantastic" is Viggo Mortensen, whose engaging performance as the strict family patriarch earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. The movie also bears a few resemblances to the road-movie convention of "Little Miss Sunshine", where both movies deal with the importance of family values.

Cinema Online, 22 October 2017


Related Movies:
The Glass Castle (21 Sep 2017)
Captain Fantastic (14 Jul 2016)

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