The Family Tree

1 Oct

Title: The Family Tree
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Vivi Friedman
Writer: Mark Lisson
Starring: 
Dermot Mulroney, Hope Davis, Chi McBride, Max Thieriot, Brittany Robertson, Christina Hendricks, Selma Blair, Keith Carradine, Bow Wow, Madeline Zima, Jane Seymour, Evan Handler
MPAA Rating: 
R, sexual content, pervasive language, drug use and some violence
Runtime: 
87 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
5.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 
6%

I try to watch as many films as I can so that my total of reviews for any given year can be reasonably high and allow me to really make a good decision as to what the best film of a year is, even when I know a film will probably be horrible I’ll give it a go, but there are also some smaller films which I’m not really all that excited about because they look bad that I’ll skip right on through. The Family Tree would have usually been one of those films, the plot just didn’t really do it for me and I could tell that it wasn’t going to be a movie I would ever really get to love at all. But then I took a look at the cast listing for the film, and I decided I had to check it out if only because it seemed to be a rather huge collection of very good supporting actors given a feature-length film without no real star to try and shine in. And hey, maybe there’s no real star here, but at least one of those second-(or-third)-teer stars was Christina Hendricks, and as a Mad Men devotee (and a sane male) she was good enough a reason to give this one a chance, even if she only appears for a brief moment.

Dermot Mulroney is one of the actors here, in charge of playing Jack, the father figure of the Burnett family, a rather dysfunctional clan living in Ohio. Hope Davis plays his wife here, and gives the best performance of the film (which isn’t really saying all that much) as a rather bitter sort of woman named Bunnie who takes the time she has home alone while Jack is at the office to engage in some sort of twisted affair with their next-door neighbor Simon, played by Chi McBride. Then there are the Burnett’s teenage children, Eric, played by Max Thieriot, who’s in charge of providing the film’s narration, a guy who lives under the wing of the local Reverend Diggs, who’s in turn played by Keith Carradine and who happens to have a an unusual fascination with guns and marihuana. And then there’s Eric’s twin sister, Kelly, a foul-mouthed girl who’s played by Brittany Robertson, an actress I really liked when she headlined the CW’s gone-too-soon Life Unexpected.

Yes, The Family Tree is just another one of those films that do their all to provide some sort of fresh outlook at suburban dysfunction, it tries to both show a rather dramatic and serious vision of a family trying to get a second chance at normalcy and a more topical sort of dark comedy interpretation of it. The whole cast is totally game for this, it must be said, and if this film isn’t plain out awful it’s most because of that, but the script, though ambitious in some of the themes it tackles, is ultimately still just an utter mess, and the less said about Vivi Friedman’s direction the better, as she never once succeeds even partially at marrying these two point of views of the situation and just totally lets the film fall apart through the seams.

What happens is that Bunnie knocks her head and gets a case of amnesia. That gives The Family Tree the option of asking what if Bunnie forgot how messed up her relationship with her mediocre husband was and how much pain she got from her kids, which is of course what opens the door to the possibility of the Burnett’s becoming a normal family again. And I would have liked seeing that being developed further, seeing Bunnie and Jack maybe rekindling their relationship and restoring the one they have with their children before Bunnie fully recovers her memory and them being fine as a family unit once again. However, the story gives too much attention to the secondary plot points that it just really takes away from it, all the stuff about the Reverend, about gun control and crime and sex and a slew of other events and characters get this to be just a really scattered sort of film.

I didn’t enjoy The Family Tree one bit, and Vivi Friedman really could have made a much better debut film considering she got a script she could work with because it certainly had some decent stuff in there and because it had a cast that was game for everything she threw at them. How she got all of this talent I don’t know, she must be seriously well-connected, but it’s horrible to see people like Mr. Carradine, Ms. Hendricks and Selma Blair be given these really small and thankless roles that means that their considerable talents will go to waste here. Not to mention that the other actors are given characters that aren’t fleshed out one bit and only serve to go through the plot points of an overstuffed screenplay. This is a movie with no substance at all, and no laughs either, which means, no matter the talent assembled, it failed at everything it set out to accomplish.

Grade: C

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