Royal Tenenbaums

Someday I intend to write a series of essays or stories about my colorful family members and their often bizarre antics. I fully expect these stories to sell as well as David Sedaris's tales, and eventually someone will buy the film rights and make a hilarious, wildly successful movie about my charmingly dysfunctional weird family.

In the meantime, Hollywood has no shortage of films about crazy messed-up families. The winter holiday season is the ideal time to enjoy these movies. No matter how weird or annoying your relatives might act, you can always find a film with even wackier families.

Cinematical would like to present, just in time for the family-filled holidays, seven of the most entertaining screwed-up families in film:

  1. The Abromowitz family, Slums of Beverly Hills—I liked Slums of Beverly Hills a lot because the family was realistically dysfunctional, not over-the-top weird for the sake of comedy. Alan Arkin keeps moving his kids from cheap apartment to cheaper apartment, breaking leases in the middle of the night ... all in Beverly Hills, so the kids can attend the best schools. To add to the fun, cousin Marisa Tomei moves in with them while trying to kick her drug habit and attend nursing classes. It's a lovely little movie. Don't do what I did when my boyfriend tried to convince me to see it and mix it up with Down and Out in Beverly Hills, another dysfunctional family film that isn't a fraction as good.
  2. The Larson family, Home for the Holidays—When I told friends I was working on this list, everyone said I should see Home for the Holidays. (Others recommended The House of Yes, which I still need to see.) The cast is absolutely first-rate: Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning as the parents, and Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., and Cynthia Stevenson as their kids. Overall, this movie is terribly uneven and doesn't quite work, but individual scenes are priceless. I loved the Thanksgiving dinner, which makes every holiday meal in my family seem normal and dull by comparison.
  3. The Bullock family, My Man Godfrey—I couldn't resist at least one good 1930s movie for this list, and Holiday isn't available on DVD yet. My Man Godfrey focuses on a wonderfully eccentric family that can't get along: Carole Lombard is the daughter who's never grown up and who is constantly bullied by her older sister (Gail Patrick). Their mother (Alice Brady) spends all her time collecting proteges of the arts, such as Mischa Auer, and their dad (Eugene Pallette) acts as though the women in the family have led him to the verge of breakdown. Fortunately, William Powell turns up to restore order to this chaotic household.
  4. The Tenenbaum family, The Royal Tenenbaums—An obvious choice, but I liked this movie so much I couldn't resist including it. Besides, the family is a great collection of screwups: Luke Wilson as the ex-tennis-star brother who obsesses over his sister, Gwyneth Paltrow, as the playwright sister who sneaks smokes and has a daddy complex; Ben Stiller as the brother who dresses himself and his kids in warmup suits and constantly holds emergency drills; Anjelica Huston as the mom who writes about all of it, and ... Gene Hackman. And that's just scratching the surface of this film.
  5. The Wormwood family, Matilda—When your parents are played by Rhea Perlman and Danny DeVito at their trashiest, you know you're in trouble. Every time I see this movie, I feel terribly sorry for little Matilda, the budding genius in a family of chronic TV game-show lovers. Fortunately, she finds a way to survive and even thrive. Matilda is wonderfully satisfying if you've ever wanted to take revenge on oppressive, obnoxious figures of authority in your life.
  6. The Corleone family, The Godfather and The Godfather: Part 2The Godfather aired on TV on Christmas Day a few years ago when I was staying with my parents, who were shocked to discover that my baby brother and I were enjoying this fine holiday film on Christmas-of-all-days, right before the relatives were due to show up. I didn't understand at the time why it seemed so fitting. Actually the Corleones all get along quite well most of the time, at least in the first movie, and hardly seem abnormal at all unless you consider organized crime (and fratricide) to be dysfunctional.
  7. The Addams family, The Addams Family and Addams Family Values—I'm cheating a bit here: The Addams family isn't actually dysfunctional, they just look like they are. The parents are delightfully romantic with one another, the children get along beautifully in their own way, and they even have their grandmother living with them rather peacefully. Addams Family Values is a particularly good choice during the holiday season because of the unforgettable Thanksgiving pageant.