According to Judge Bill Gibron, dysfunction is dead...as a cinematic subgenre, that is.
Embrace the dysfunction…or not.
Sex! Scandal! Secrets! These are the basic elements of the dramatic comedy subgenre otherwise known as "The Dysfunctional Family Film." Ever since '80s therapists rechristened the raging biological dilemma with such a tasty tagline, dysfunction has come to mean everything from the most minor interpersonal skirmishes to outlandish cases of rape and abuse. Naturally, with its rise as a hot button excuse for everything everyone does, the various art media have latched onto dysfunction with exploitative aplomb. From Ordinary People to Happiness, American Beauty to Life During Wartime, there is no such thing as the nuclear clan anymore-unless you mean the collection of relatives about to blow up like an arch atomic bomb. Then it's a cinematic Three Mile Island. A perfect example of this lunatic life in fringe freefall design is something called The Family Tree. Meant as a mean-spirited black comedy ala The War of the Roses, what it ends up being is a purposefully dark slog that makes no bones about being twisted and tacky for the sake of nothing particularly entertaining or interesting.
Jack Burnett (Dermot Mulroney, The Wedding Date) is a mild mannered milquetoast twerp. His wife Bunnie (Hope Davis, In Treatment) is an adulterous shrew, screwing around with the next door neighbor (Chi McBride, Pushing Daisies). His son Eric (Max Thieriot, My Soul to Take) is a evangelical zealot wannabe under the tutelage of a gun-toting preacher named Reverend Diggs (Keith Carradine, Nashville) while daughter Kelly (Britt Robertson, Dan in Real Life) is a slinky slut. Within their seedy sphere of influence is a lewd lesbian teacher (Selma Blair, A Dirty Shame) and Bunnie's bitter mother (Jane Seymour, Somewhere in Time). When a sudden bout of amnesia renders his wandering wife loving and considerate again, Jack is ecstatic. He hopes this is a return to some normalcy in his life. Of course, trips to the therapist and an attempted home invasion may change all that.
Perhaps you have to be in the mood for something like The Family Tree. Maybe, just maybe, you have to consider the work of someone like Alan Ball too gutless and prim to be part of the whole dysfunctional family concept. It could be that one merely has to give up their satiric standards and accept everything thrown at you by writer Mark Lisson (a longtime TV vet) and director Vivi Friedman as fresh and novel, no matter the raw reality. Like a hyperactive cat leaping at an imaginary bug in a dimly lit corner of your living room, this movie is cute at first, confusing after a while, and calculatingly clumsy at the end. Before long, you grow tired of the twists and rampant subplots and merely want out. What once appeared endearing is now a chore. It doesn't help that the acting is so inconsistent. Mulroney, playing against type, doesn't do dork well and Davis goes from mean to motherly in such a stark manner that nothing resonates. As with most movies like this, we are supposed to see ourselves in The Family Tree. All we really see is a subpar raunchy sitcom with some slick, sensationalized bits.
As for the Blu-ray release of this title, E1 Entertainment does a halfway decent job. The 1080p AVC-encoded high definition transfer does nice work delivering the details, and the 2.35:1 image has its cinematic qualities. Still, blacks are not as strong as they should be and the contrasts can be a bit lax. On the sound side of things, the lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix far outshines the standard Dolby Digital version of the same. There is plenty of ambience and some directional design. While the differences are minimal, the results are respectable. As for added content, we are treated to a pair of trailers (one of the "red band"—shocking!), an interview featurette, and a behind-the-scenes piece. Nothing seminal or earth shattering, kind of like the product being pitched.
Indeed, The Family Tree is so obvious and inert it won't win over its audience. Instead, it's the celluloid equivalent of standing in a crowded room and yelling "SMOKE!" No one cares, and no one should.
Guilty. Lame and ludicrous.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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