Religion butts heads with romance in the dysfunctional family values dramedy, the ironically titled The Perfect Family. But this somewhat unholy trinity of three women filmmakers – first time director Anne Renton and co-screenwriters Claire V. Riley and Paula Goldberg – comes off as more focused on trivializing the ethical aspects of faith, than offering anything more positively grounded as a substitute.
Kathleen Turner trades in her femme fatale creds for fretful matriarch and grandmother Eileen Cleary, presiding over a suburban Catholic family spanning three generations. We’re first introduced to Eileen as a bustling do-gooder around town, delivering meals to invalids and volunteering at her local church. But something more troubling and complicated seems to be brewing in Eileen’s life, than simply an older woman compensating and reacting to the empty nest syndrome after her grown children have departed.
And those unspoken anxieties abruptly rise to the surface, when Eileen is informed by the monsignor (Richard Chamberlain) that her charitable good deeds have made her eligible to compete as a finalist for the Catholic Woman of the Year Award. But the potential honor comes as a mixed blessing, to say the least.
Part of the evaluation process entails a congregation of clerical authorities visiting Eileen’s home, to assess her assets as a mother and family role model befitting church standards. Which would necessitate covering up the presence of a recovering alcoholic spouse and card carrying AA member; (Michael McGrady); an unhappy son (Jason Ritter) who has recently walked out on his wife and children and taken up with a downtown manicurist; and a daughter (Emily Deschanel) who’s just come out to Mom as a very pregnant lesbian in love and headed to the altar.
Kathleen Turner emotionally balances her character with delicately layered dramatic expertise, a role that could have easily slid into religious caricature. And which would have been primarily owing to a calculated scenario that seems to stack the deck against issues of compassion and loyalty in favor of hedonistic impulses. In particular in the case Ritter’s bored out of his mind spouse, who emphatically dumps his unseen wife and young children in pursuit of a zero chemistry infatuation with the bimbo-ish babe who does his nails. Along with Eileen’s resentful husband who ducks out of the marriage one afternoon, suitcase in hand, instead of sampling a meaningful conversation about long festering differences.
The filmmakers appear to be engaging in a resentful religious blame game related to any possible moral reservations around letting it all hang out guilt-free, while applauding that sort of thing. Sorry, just not buying an ethics debacle intended to lead the audience around by the nose.
2 1/2 stars
To see the trailer of The Perfect Family: