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2 Movies for People Dreading the Holidays with Dysfunctional Families

Updated on May 2, 2014

Holiday Anguish?

A snowman protests against holidays with the dysfunctional family!
A snowman protests against holidays with the dysfunctional family! | Source

A Mystery of Life: Not Belonging in Your Own Family

If you’ve ever thought, as you attend some mandatory family get-together, “Who are these people? Where did I come from?”, you are not alone. A significant enough portion of the population feels the same way so as to have inspired movies depicting it.

If you have a relative who chooses the formal holiday sit-down dinner to attempt to survey everyone around the table what their personal habits are for, how can I put this delicately?, sitting on the toilet – then you may be in a dysfunctional family. (Well, that is if you do not also initiate such a query at every holiday. Then, you are just all rednecks.)

Why do people who used to happily play together as pups in the same litter, grow up to become adults one would never befriend. Or even “Friend” on Facebook? Why do the family elders create the “perfect storm” settings for it play out over and over? This is one of the many mysteries of life.

Thus, in my desire to offer possible comfort of the “you are not alone” persuasion, or better yet, the “you think YOU’VE got it bad?” ilk, I suggest the following 2 movies.

Home for the Holidays (1995)

Home for the Holidays

Home for the Holidays (1995) USA

Rated PG-13, 103 minutes, comedy/drama and romance

Director: Jodie Foster

Notable actors: Anne Bancroft, Robert Downey, Jr., Holly Hunter, Charles Durning

The action centers around American Thanksgiving, but it could be any family gathering for a holiday, wedding, baptism, bar mitzvah, etc. Relatives travel from varying parts of the country to gather at the ole homestead in Baltimore. Of course, there are numerous life challenges and personality/value conflicts between the individual members as they congregate. One of the “flies in the ointment” is a gay relative. The fact that today many families would have a more accepting attitude shows how far we have come in the almost 20 years since this film was produced.

The plot half-works. Actually there is not much of a plot, just a collection of too-familiar “vignettes.” This movie is a little juvenile and absurd, but absurd is what makes a family dysfunctional. Nonetheless, the conflicting emotions, the frustrations, and God bless ‘em, the continued attempts to make the family work are dynamics which are played out in this film and all over the world.

Perhaps similar dramas occur in your family? If they do, Home for the Holidays may resonate with you in a comforting way. You can tell yourself that even your bunch of looney bin relatives are not quite as toxic as the folks in this film.

A bit of dialogue between two thirty-something sisters:

Claudia: You don't know the first thing about me.
Joanne: Likewise, I'm sure. If I just met you on the street... if you gave me your phone number... I'd throw it away.
Claudia: Well, we don't have to like each other, Jo. We're family.

Trailer for Home for the Holidays

Death at a Funeral (2007)

Death at a Funeral

Death at a Funeral (2007) England

Rated R, 90 minutes, comedy/dark comedy and mystery

Director: Frank Oz

Notable Actors: Peter Dinklage, Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, Peter Vaughan

(Please note: this is the original, British version which I recommend.)

This movie has a very tight script, nicely done. It has all the emotional content and more of the Home for the Holidays film plus a good story. Relatives gather for a funeral and these include many dysfunctional people. Therefore, at a stressful event this movie has the family members with their relationship histories, and also several new individuals trying to find their place in the proceedings. Conflicting values lead to discomfort if not downright tension. A priceless feature is a very believable old uncle, who could be in anyone’s family (otherwise dysfunctional or not.) The gay element is also present.

Frank Oz, also known as Mr. Fozzie Bear of the Muppets, has an impressive directing record, and this film is certainly a shining star example of his skill. Kudos also to the actors and editor. Even those without dysfunctional families can find this movie entertaining and worthwhile.

Additionally, this movie has the mystery element: Who is going to die? However, British comedies can have a wacky perspective which may be odd to you if you have never seen one.

A bit of dialogue – daughter-in-law trying to be helpful to the widow.

Jane: Would you like a cup of tea, Sandra?
Sandra: Tea can do many things, Jane, but it can't bring back the dead.

The trailer below lists the title incorrectly as “Death and a Funeral” but it is from the correct movie.

Trailer for Death at a Funeral (2007)

You Are Not Alone

If you ambivalently want to and don’t want to be with family for a gathering, these two movies may steel your nerves. If you belief the adage that home is where you go to die (hey – somebody has to provide your hospice house, and vice verse), it might be good to keep some sort of tenuous connection.

There is a silver lining to belonging to a dysfunctional family. Yes, as a hero declared in a sci-fi film of the 1950’s, everything has a harmful side and a good side. With the antics of a dysfunctional family, one always possess PLENTY of material for entertaining monologues at “normal” social functions and amateurs’ night at the comedy club.

Photo and text copyright 2011 Maren E. Morgan, all rights reserved.


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    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Naw, sweetheart. You are not alone. I say it, too. Of course, "those" people are thinking it right back about us! lol

    • mjfarns profile image

      mjfarns 6 years ago from Bloomington, Illinois USA

      “Who are these people? Where did I come from?”. I find myself saying that around the holidays all the time! Good to know I'm not alone!