In times of moral, emotional, or physical distress, a support system is near absolutely necessary to prevent the person from entering depression, or any type of psychological arrest. Many turn to their existing relationships, whether with friends or family, for assistance in these times of need; knowing that their help is near assured. However, whether it's simply due to a lack of strong relationships, some turn to a force outside of their control give hope and confidence; a divine being whose very existence is to protect those who need protecting. Putting faith into this "higher power" can be done with the strongest intentions, but often, leads the person to merely wait for the optimism and happiness to return to life, rather than solve the problems themselves. This is not intended to be a slander of religion, or believing in a God, but when entire faith is put into a power that is intended to solve near anything, the chance of acting to benefit oneself diminishes at least slightly. With this belief in a "higher power" acting as the support system rather than developed relationships, when faith is tested, there's no fallback plan. Your support system cannot have a support system of its own.
Directed by newcomer Anne Renton, the Catholicism-based light drama The Perfect Family stars Kathleen Turner (Peggie Sue Got Married) as the Christianity obsessed patriarch of a family whose good Christian values are slowly crumbling, following her nomination for the "Catholic Woman of the Year" award. Desperately desiring the award's grand prize, absolution from all past sins, she attempts to re-connect with her local, yet seemingly estranged family, after neglecting them for several years to focus on faith. Her husband has become more critical of her intense devotion to faith (played by Michael McGrady), her son has left his wife and children to begin a relationship with another woman (son played by Jason Ritter), and her daughter is revealed not only to be a lesbian, but also pregnant (Emily Deschanel). Because her family relationship based support system has slowly crumbled like the good Christian values of those she loves, she must continue to turn to God even though she realizes the appropriate course of action would be to simply accept her family for who they are. Also, when her faith is inevitably tested, she has no one to fall back on. Though this film clearly has a possibly interesting premise, the end result is, sadly, a disappointment.
Though I always feel slightly guilty heaping the majority of blame onto a freshman director, Renton seems insecure as to whether the film is intended to be a Christian drama, or a sitcom-esque comedy. Characters frequently find themselves in possibly unintentional cringe worthy awkward scenes seemingly stripped straight out of a bad sitcom (an interrupted gay wedding comes most to mind), and then immediately transform into surprisingly heavy drama. While these two types of scenes work decently separately, or at least the dramatic scenes for that matter, when brought together it seems like there're two separate films being edited together; with neither being too particularly interesting. Another example, though this may more be to the fault of the writers, would be how characters frequently fall into generic stereotypes; most notably with the various members of Turner's church, and almost offensively with the Mexican family of her daughter's wife. By the end, the only two defined characters are Turner and Deschanel. In what is intended to be an ensemble film, only having two characters which emerge from the stereotypical broad stokes is an incredibly low count.
Because of its previously mentioned stereotyped cast, it's a relief that what keeps the film moving through its surprisingly short runtime of 84 minutes is its cast. With two charming performances from Ritter and Deschanel, and a somewhat thought provoking one from Turner, the film at some points almost seems watchable based off them alone. Other than Marley & Me, this is my first exposure to Kathleen Turner, and this film makes me curious to see her previous work. Ritter is an actor whose other new film, Bag of Hammers, should have a review on the site coming fairly soon. He's an excellent upcoming actor who I could easily imagine breaking out sometime in the near future.
Fallback plans are important, and luckily The Perfect Family uses its excellent cast to fallback on once its mediocre ambitions are revealed. While this isn't necessarily an insightful film about a woman whose faith is tested, it at least gives actors a chance to show how they can transform fairly bad material into something somewhat entertaining. If I can give the film one compliment, I'll give it that.