Title: The Perfect Family

Director: Anne Renton

Starring: Kathleen Turner, Emily Deschanel, Jason Ritter, Sharon Lawrence, Michael McGrady, Angelique Cabral, Richard Chamberlain, Elizabeth Pena

A putative dramedy centering on the happy-face domestic veneer many of us feel it so necessary to play-act and pantomime, “The Perfect Family” never locates and communicates a very persuasive reason for its existence, or even a compelling dramatic throughline. As a vehicle for the not-much-seen Kathleen Turner, this indie film from first-time director Anne Renton, which premiered at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, is so-so, but that represents the high point of qualified recommendation for this resolutely middle-of-the-road affair, a cinematic “meh” if ever there were one.

Eileen Cleary (Turner) is a devoted Catholic, and frequent volunteer at many events in her parish. When her priest (Richard Chamberlain) informs Eileen of her high standing for coveted “Catholic Woman of the Year” honors, she’s thrilled. For the prize of complete sacramental absolution, however, a visiting archbishop wishes to make sure the selection is beyond reproach, and meet with family members of those under consideration. With these get-togethers looming, Eileen discovers both that her daughter Shannon (Emily Deschanel) is gay, pregnant, and about to wed her girlfriend Angela (Angelique Cabral), and that her son, Frank, Jr. (Jason Ritter), is looking to exit his own marriage. While these revelations set Eileen spinning and simultaneously push her into both cover-up and problem-solving mode, her firefighter husband Frank (Michael McGrady), an ex-alcoholic, tries to steer her toward a graceful landing.

Scripted by Paula Goldberg and Claire Riley, with an uncredited polish by director Renton, “The Perfect Family” is certainly a well structured film, but it never really emotionally takes flight or strikes out into truly interesting and original territory. The screenplay sets up a snooty rival (Sharon Lawrence) for Eileen, but she remains a one-dimensional plot device for later conflict between Eileen and Shannon, and the movie doesn’t really plumb this for much comedic value anyway. The basic conflicts feel stale, and other details just don’t jibe. “You’ve never even been to my apartment, you hate highways,” says Shannon to her mother at one point, setting up a “nervous driver” connecting scene, meant to be played for laughs, that seemingly cuts against the nature of both Eileen’s frequent volunteering and her busybody involvement in her adult kids’ lives.

A few other films — the flawed but still quite wicked “Saved!” comes to mind — have taken a run at religious hypocrisy or at least the common nature of conflict between believers and non-believers, but “The Perfect Family,” true to its title, really is much more concerned with mainstreamed (and very familiar) familial conflict instead of any pointed examination of faith as a salve or elixir for unresolved tension and unhappiness. Potential avenues of barbed exploration (“I don’t have to think, I’m Catholic,” retorts Eileen to her daughter at one point) are quickly jettisoned in favor of seriocomic hand-wringing (e.g., “If only my family would behave the way they’re supposed to!”).

This type of movie has been done literally hundreds of times before, and the material isn’t snappy or distinguished enough to cast anything into stark relief. Ergo, “The Perfect Family” just sort of plods along, until it reaches a shrugging, conciliatory conclusion that is less ambiguous than merely half-formed and rushed. {Yawn}

Technical: C+

Acting: C+

Story: C-

Overall: C-

Written by: Brent Simon

The Perfect Family Movie

By Brent Simon

A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International, Newsweek Japan, Magill's Cinema Annual, and many other outlets. He cannot abide a world without U2 and tacos.

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