The dysfunctional family movie has seen so many different iterations over the years that it’s become a sort of subgenre unto itself. Oftentimes suburban (at least with respect to US output), consistently caustic, the best dysfunctional family movies capture both the inextricable ties that keep people together no matter the adversity and the infighting and bitterness that can often come from the very same.
The release of This Is Where I Leave You sees yet another entry into the pantheon of films where blood ties lead to all kinds of infighting. Based on the wonderful Jonathan Tropper novel (who adapted his own work for the film’s screenplay), This Is Where I Leave You chronicles a tense week in the life of the Altman clan after the patriarch of their estranged family passes away. As they gather under the same roof to bid him farewell, a great many buried resentments are dredged up, spurred on by Judd’s (Jason Bateman) recent cuckolding at the hands of his oafish boss (Dax Shepard).
The source material is equal parts wistful, unflinching, and uproariously funny, and while time will tell if the film follows suit, we thought we’d take this opportunity to offer up some thoughts on our favorite tales of family chaos and the sequences that best define them. Check out our list, and feel free to talk over your own favorites with us.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
For a movie that looks a lot like a lot of other Sundance dramedies on the surface, Little Miss Sunshine is a rarity among them in that it sticks with you long after it ends. Though the vestiges of indie-movie quirk are there (name actors in unconventional character roles, outmoded vintage items as plot points, a soundtrack by a well-regarded indie rock band), the film is less about its surface traits and a lot more about how families interact and how sometimes a group of people who can’t stand one another are the best support system for each member.
The film takes on everything from body dysmorphia to suicide to drug addiction to the American spirit of competition, but it never stops being funny or a film about the Hoovers and their struggles as they attempt to support Olive (Abigail Breslin) and her dream of winning a beauty pageant. Most poignantly, it’s the selectively mute Dwayne (Paul Dano), Olive’s older brother, who captures the film’s spirit in his climactic silence-breaking freak-out. Chastising his entire family for their delusions and endless bickering, he collapses into a pile of tears until his sister shows him a bit of kindness and kinship. And so Dwayne picks up shop and gets back on the family bus.
Little Miss Sunshine is at once hilarious and devastating, a film where the threats of mortality and failure hang over Devotchka’s sun-soaked score and the Hoovers at every moment, but it’s ultimately a story of how failure is completely relative, ending in the Hoovers finally coming together as a group. And being banned from the California youth pageant scene for life. They can’t all be wins. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer