Turner’s Classic Movies were far Superior to this Insipid Comic Family Drama
Kathleen Turner attacks the lead role in Anne Renton’s ‘The Perfect Family’ as if it were actually worthy of her. It isn’t. ‘Baby Jane’-era Bette Davis would be no more out of place than Turner as Eileen Cleary, a Catholic mom in Everytown, Suburbia whose devoutness is more a stubborn allegiance to a list of do’s and don’ts than a deeper theological exploration. But when Eileen is tapped as a frontrunner for Catholic Woman of the Year at her local parish, she is forced to question her moral precepts and life choices. As the movie blatantly telegraphs throughout, Eileen harbors a shameful secret from her past (“Don’t walk around with regrets. They eat at your soul!” passes for a subtle early hint). Her secret involves a child, but Albee’s ‘Virginia Woolf’ this is not. Turner’s greatness is betrayed by sitcom-level humor, movie-of-the-week insights, and nondescript direction from Renton.
It’s too banal even for mockery. Even John Waters, who directed Turner in ‘Serial Mom,’ wouldn’t find much to get impish about– with the possible exception of Richard Chamberlain playing the kindly Monsignor Murphy with only the barest deviant twinkle in his silvery eyes.
Turner has been brilliant many times over in playing the life crisis of wives and mothers in movies like the aching ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’ and the brutish, sharply observed ‘The War of the Roses.’ And ‘Serial Mom,’ in which she brings to life a movie-monster version of Eileen Cleary, a homemaker who will go to murderous lengths to uphold those rigid do’s and don’ts. She was able in all of these roles to tap into the restlessness, disappointment, and even total sociopathy hiding beneath the domestic surface.
Like Turner, Emily Deschanel does her best to bring some authenticity to her part as Cleary’s lesbian daughter. Like Turner, she deserves something better. Her viaduct cheekbones and eagle’s brow were made for movie screen close-ups; she’s wasted on TV.
The Perfect Family is a movie about a person struggling with religious faith made by people whose main interest in religion is to primly scold it; they’re no different than an obtuse Catholic school nun with a ruler. One of the year’s best movies so far, Whit Stillman’s deeply satisfying ‘Damsels in Distress,’ is by contrast suffused with spiritual inclinations, without aligning to a particular denomination. “Only excellence can glorify the Lord!” Stillman amiably writes. The mandate is meaningless to the makers of ‘The Perfect Family,’ and so they stop far short.