From the quirky to the truly toxic to the functional dysfunction in between, the fusion of comedy and tragedy that is the family dramedy ranks as my favorite film genre. Unlike the family drama (think Terms of Endearment or Secrets and Lies), the family dramedy rarely takes home the Oscar.
But this year, The Kids Are All Right is in the running for Best Picture.
Kids stars Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a lesbian couple who, after 20 years and two children, are struggling with issues that face most marriages. When their college-bound daughter contacts her sperm donor father (Mark Ruffalo), this newly extended family gets complicated. Ruffalo never thought about the day a kid might come looking for him, let alone two kids (they also used him to conceive a son), but welcomes them into his life. At home, the reality of the man behind the donor profile brings far more mixed emotions. Kids took home the Golden Globes for Best Actress (for Bening) and Best Picture in the Comedy/Musical categories. In addition to Best Picture, its Oscar noms include Best Actress (Bening), Best Supporting Actor (Ruffalo) and Best Original Screenplay.
In honor of the family dramedy, a week’s worth of titles for your Netflix queue. They’ll make you laugh, make you cry and maybe help make peace with the genetics you can’t escape:
Home for the Holidays -- In a sea of dysfunctional family holiday movies, this rises above them all. Best Thanksgiving film. Ever.
Postcards From the Edge -- Meryl Streep as an actress fresh out of rehab living with her alcoholic actress mother, played by Shirley MacLaine. From the semi-autobiographical novel by Carrie Fisher. Need I say more?
The Squid and The Whale -- Years before you knew him as Mark Zuckerberg, Jesse Eisenberg starred in Noah Baumbach’s Sundance hit, based on his own life in pre-Internet 1980s Brooklyn.
The Royal Tenenbaums -- It’s like JD Salinger’s Glass family brought to life but better: with narration by Alec Baldwin, incredible sets (like the board game closet) and a must-have soundtrack.
Image courtesy Touchstone
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation -- The Griswolds are one of the greatest dysfunctional families of modern cinema. But family comedies never win awards, so I’m including this one of the Vacation trilogy here.
The Savages -- Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman are sibs who’ve never outgrown their childhood competitiveness -Tamara Jenkins’s (Slums of Beverly Hills) dialogue is amazing.
Little Miss Sunshine -- A mother won’t let her wannabe self-help guru husband, selective mute son, suicidal brother or drug-addicted father-in-law keep her little girl from her pageant dreams. Just throw them all in a VW van and go.
Seriously, this list could have gone on for several pages. I kept it to the last 25 years, no foreign films and barely skimmed the surface. What favorite films would you add to the list? Are there any family dramedies that have become annual viewing traditions in your home?
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