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Case Number 02910

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Immediate Family

Sony // 1989 // 99 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Elizabeth Skipper (Retired) // May 22nd, 2003

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All Rise...

The Charge

The toughest choices are made with the heart.

Opening Statement

Plodding, uneventful, boring…yep, that about covers my opinion of Immediate Family. As much as I tried, I just could not enjoy this movie. Maybe it's because it was released in 1989, before movies started to cater to the MTV generation that I am such a part of, or maybe it's because the characters weren't well developed enough for me to care about them. Then again, maybe it's because they all had really, really bad hair.

Facts of the Case

Linda (Glenn Close, Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons, 101 Dalmatians) and Michael Spector (James Woods, Once Upon a Time in America, Cat's Eye, Riding in Cars with Boys) seem to have the perfect life: successful careers, a beautiful Seattle home, and 10 years in a loving marriage. But there's always an exception, and theirs is that they can't have a baby; even fertility drugs and artificial insemination haven't worked. Meanwhile, everywhere they look, they see children with their ecstatic and fulfilled parents. They see everything they can't have.

It all finally becomes too much for Linda when, as a real estate agent, she shows a house that turns out to be ideal for families with children. Her hormones are fluctuating and her best friend is too occupied with her own children to help out. She takes solace in a bottle of wine and waits for Michael to come home. It's the final straw; they decide to stop struggling and try a different route, adoption.

The Spectors visit an adoption lawyer who helps them start the process. Theirs will be an open adoption, which means they will have contact with the birth mother before the baby is born. Soon they receive a phone call from Lucy (Mary Stuart Masterson, Fried Green Tomatoes, Benny and Joon, Bed of Roses), an Ohio girl who is about a month away from her due date. The phone call goes well, so the Spectors arrange for Lucy to come out to Seattle to arrange the adoption. Their relationship is awkward at first, but they soon bond, in typical Hollywood fashion (Linda and Lucy dance around the room to a Van Morrison song, and, later, Lucy and Michael watch "the game" together).

Everything seems to be going as planned until Sam (Kevin Dillon, True Crime, Hidden Agenda), Lucy's boyfriend and the baby's father, shows up. Nothing concretely negative occurs, but for the first time, Linda and Michael realize the fragility of the situation. Sam stays a few days and then hops a bus back to Ohio. That night, Lucy goes into labor. The birth is easy, and Lucy willingly gives up the baby afterwards, even refusing an offer to hold him. She is moved off the maternity ward into the surgical ward and the Spectors are treated as the parents—feeding and holding their newly named William.

But Lucy doesn't hold up her end of the bargain. She visits the baby more and more often, and we can see the gears in her head begin to turn. When Linda and Michael show up to take William home, they are greeted by the adoption lawyer, who informs them that Lucy has changed her mind. Lucy takes off for Ohio with the baby she has renamed Andrew, leaving the Spectors with no options.

As Lucy soon finds out, parenthood is not such an easy task. Will she and Sam be able to handle it? Will Linda and Michael be able to move on and try another adoption?

The Evidence

A movie needs either a compelling plot or engaging characters to succeed. Preferably, it will have both, but if it has neither, it is certain to fail. Immediate Family, unfortunately, has neither. The plot is predictable and uneventful. Only 25 minutes into the movie, I knew exactly what was going to happen, and nothing came along to surprise me. There were no revelations, no twists, no turns…in other words, nothing to keep me interested in the story.

If the plot doesn't keep you interested, then the characters need to. You need to care about them and their interactions with each other. You need to root for them. Again, Immediate Family fails. All it offers is two-dimensional characters who are confined by sorely lacking dialogue: the yuppie wife who likes to cook, the yuppie husband who enjoys sports, and the girl from Ohio who is a bumpkin with bad grammar. I found myself cringing quite often at lines that no real person would ever say. For example, when asked about her bus trip from Ohio to Seattle, Lucy answers, "We went through the Rocky Mountains. They were big." Even when I try to understand Lucy as the uneducated trailer trash she is supposed to be, I can't hear her saying this line. In fact, I can't hear anyone, ever, saying this line.

Glenn Close, James Woods, and Mary Stuart Masterson got together and the result was a bad movie? Well, the acting must be good at least, right? My answer is a resounding "I really can't tell." I'm sure these actors did they best they could with the material, but they just don't shine like the stars they are.

The one saving grace in Immediate Family is the music. I was pleasantly surprised to hear some great '70s and '80s groups, including Talking Heads, The Pretenders, and Van Morrison. The music gives the movie a slightly edgier feel—it's too bad the script couldn't follow suit.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, given my disappointment with this movie, that its transfer to DVD is just as lackluster. To start with, it's a full screen presentation. That should be enough to stop you right there. For a movie so recently transferred to DVD, there is no excuse for full screen. If you can look past the full screen presentation, you'll find the transfer to be satisfactory, though the colors are a bit soft, not quite as sharp as I would like.

The next slap in the face comes with the only available audio track: Dolby 2.0 Mono. I had trouble hearing the dialogue in a few spots, and the musical interludes were too loud compared to the sound in the rest of the movie.

Finally, in what I can only assume was an attempt to make sure no one ever buys this DVD, the only extras are two trailers for Riding in Cars with Boys and Stepmom. No commentary, no bios of its big-name stars, not even a trailer for the movie itself.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I'll cut this movie a little slack for staying grounded in reality. Given its topic, it could very easily have strayed into Lifetime Movie Network territory, with kidnappings and adultery. Instead, it told the story it started out to tell—that of two couples and a baby.

Closing Statement

Let's recap: A movie with a predictable plot, insincere characters, and unrealistic dialogue is presented in full screen on a bare-bones disc. Does this DVD have anything going for it? Oh right, the music…

Given the evidence, my recommendation is to avoid this DVD and find yourself a good '80s rock CD instead. At least then you won't have to look at the bad hairdos while you listen.

The Verdict

Columbia TriStar is found guilty of producing a full screen DVD and is sentenced to watch Immediate Family over and over again until it realizes its mistake.

Case adjourned.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 40
Audio: 60
Extras: 50
Acting: 85
Story: 75
Judgment: 60

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• English
• French
• Portuguese
• Spanish
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailers: Riding in Cars with Boys and Stepmom


• IMDb

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