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STUDIO E1 Entertainment One
RUNNING TIME 90 Minutes
• Building a Family Tree Featurette
• On-Set Footage
A modern dark comedy that attempts to cover every controversial subject in the span of 90 minutes
Director: Vivi Friedman Actors: Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Brittany Robertson, Max Thieriot, Chi McBride, Selma Blair, Christina Hendricks, Gabrielle Anwar, Keith Carradine, Shad “Bow Wow” Moss, Jane Seymour, Rachel Leigh Cook
In the seemingly perfect town of Serenity, the Burnett family is coming apart at the seams. But when a romantic tryst-gone-wrong with the next door neighbor leaves housewife Bunnie with short term memory loss, Jack and the rest of his dysfunctional family are given an unexpected second chance at suburban bliss.
This movie takes a few seconds to define itself as willing to take risks with the story. We witness a peeping tom who is unsure which female to peep as he masturbates, the high school slutty girl he definitely knows, or she unhappily married promiscuous wife. He is looking back and forth as he starts to pleasure himself while using binoculars, and a demon squirrel (not really, but this is a really intelligent and demonic squirrel) startles him to the point he slips and hangs himself from the tree with his binocular strap. Nobody hears, and nobody sees. Then the opening credits start accompanied by the song STFU by Kari Kimmel.
The Family Tree tries so hard at hitting that ultimate shock factor, but never quite makes it there. Many concepts get started and abandoned, and so many of the jokes go for the shock value but mostly do things that have been done before and generally better. That’s not to say The Family Tree isn’t entertaining enough for a watch, but the bar has been set high due to the audience shock expectancy being stretched by films like The Hangover, Project X or even Superbad. This film pushes an inter-racial love tryst, lesbian teacher student relationships and bible thumping bully potheads. Just as the stories themselves are varied in terms of button pushing, so is the quality of each story.
Hope Davis and Dermot Mulroney both spearheaded this effort using their ability as supporting actors to make sure this is an ensemble piece. Both of these actors have been around for seemingly ever, and even though Mulroney had some great roles interspersed, for the most part he has been unable to carry a film. That is not to say they don’t work well in an ensemble, but as with most their efforts, nobody takes the torch and runs with it. Well not exactly nobody, as Keith Carradine steals every single one of his scenes, taking the focus away from whoever it was on, and giving one of the best performances I have ever seen from him, and he does it in a very subtle way.
The younger cast also works very well, Brittany Robertson resembled a young Radha Mitchell, and was great as a confused teenager who acts like a slut to protect herself from becoming one. The Brother played by Max Thieriot is fun to watch as a religious zealot in training who is a gifted sharp shooter.
The movie never really crosses the mark to be above average, and suffers due to some very poorly written “whitewashing” racial humor. At first, I thought the complete lack of race awareness was interesting, when dealing with an affair between Chi McBride and Hope Davis. About 30 minutes in, McBride gets put in jail where we are introduced to some of the worst stereotypes since Transformers 2. Every bad language slur and non ethical decision made by our young African Americans can be perceived as just horribly written drivel that weighs this movie down, and makes it lose any appeal it had gained. I know it tries to push a lot of buttons, and they were are done in an interesting way, but when it turns to economic standing they resort to the lowest common denominator and follow the cheap and easy jokes into oblivion. Luckily, that was only one part of the movie, and while not completely offensive, it’s just lazy and cheap, and in poor taste.
The direction is what you’ve grow to expect from a b-budget safe director who is more interested in the words than in the actions on the screen. The final product resembles many of the Kevin Smith films where everything is captured in a watchable way, but nothing makes you say look at the set, or the lighting or even keep me interested. I didn’t even know what caused Hope Davis to fall and get amnesia, as we were focusing more on keeping everything in frame, and not focusing on what was the most important aspect.
The Family Tree offers some decent jokes, but they are stuck in the middle of lazy, sterotype heavy writing and a budget challenged production value. The supporting cast outshines the lead actors, and the film stays to safe too really push the envelope. Worth a watch if you are really vested in the supporting actors, but not much else.
The Blu comes with basic extras with a Behind the Scenes Featurette and a small on-set diary. Entertainment One almost always include some sort of extras and does so once again.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars