Monday, June 29, 2009

Research and inspiration: Family dramas

And now for a quick study of families in dramas. Indeed, I'm writing a comedy, but I want my screen family to capture the true ingredients and textures of a family. So here are a few films that excel in that department.

1. Ordinary People (Robert Redford, 1980)

This film deals beautifully and sensitively with a family who lost her eldest son and hasn't rehabilitated since: a guilt eaten brother, a mother who can't love her only living son, and a father who desperately tries to keep the family together.

Not that we haven't seen cold, abusive or neglecting mothers at the movies before, but this mother seems to be different. She's not the cliché of a self-absorbed retired from the show-biz mom ("September", "Short Cuts", "Postcards from the Edge"), nor is she a woman who's not satisfied with family life, and decides to look for excitements outside. Beth (Mary Tyler Moore) is a woman who simply can't (or won't) adapt to the tragedy and the changes her family has gone through, and can't find compassion for her son and her husband. She wants a family, but she wants the family she had.

Also, there's something about Donald Satherland as a father that brings me to tears – not only in this movie, but even in "Pride & Prejudice" (my secret is out now).

2. You Can Count on Me (Kenneth Lonergan, 2000)

This is the film that made me love Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo. What's special about "You Can Count on Me" is that it does a defamiliarization of a brother-sister relationship, presenting them like a turbulent lovers' relationship. For Samantha (Linney), reuniting with her brother Terry (Ruffalo) is much more emotional than any other relationship she has with men at the same time (an old flame who asks her to marry him, and a married boss she an affair with). I think it's a brilliant way to tackle a siblings' relationship.

3. The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, 2005)

Here's another movie with Laura Linney. "The Squid" is rather funny, but in a brutal way. It's about a Brooklyn family, back in the 80'. The parents (Linney and Jeff Daniels), both writers, get a divorce, and their 2 boys get dragged between the two homes, witnessing their parents' weakest and most selfish moments. It's a mocking and painfully realistic portrait of neurotic intellectual parents, and the pain and heartaches they bring on their kids. I love the dialogues, and the absurd and unfortunate situations this family brings on itself.

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