'The Family Tree' Movie Review, Written by: Karen Benardello
Director: Vivi Friedman (TV’s ‘Team Suomi’)
Starring: Dermot Muloney, Hope Davis, Max Thieriot (‘My Soul to Take’), Brittany Robertson (TV’s ‘Life Unexpected’)
People often wish they can re-set their lives to not only become happier, but to also get along better with their loved ones from whom they’ve become disconnected. This is one of the important life lessons presented in the new comedy-drama ‘The Family Tree,’ which presents a satirical view on a seemingly happy suburban American family, the Burnetts. While the Burnetts have what appears to be the perfect lifestyle, they’re really dealing with such serious issues as intolerance, infidelity, drugs and stereotypes, issues that seem to be plaguing more Americans every day.
‘The Family Tree’ follows the dysfunctional Burnett family-father, Jack (played by Dermot Mulroney), mother, Bunnie (portrayed by Hope Davis) and 17-year-old twins, Kelly (played by Britt Robertson) and Eric (portrayed by Max Thieriot). While Jack and Bunnie are heading towards a divorce, as they have lost their passion for each other, she suffers from a freak accident and loses her short-term memory. Not remembering that she and Jack are having problems, that she’s cheating on him with their next-door neighbor Simon (played by Chi McBride) or even that she has children, Bunnie is determined to fix her marriage. As the Burnetts also deal with such problems as past relationships, misinterpreted advances, corporate down-sizing and Reverend Diggs (portrayed by Keith Carradine), who’s encouraging Eric to use guns, the family learns how to love each other and get along once again.
First time feature director Vivi Friedman brilliantly succeeded in combining such sensitive subjects as intolerance, religion and gun control with comedy. Unlike many comedies, whose plots focus mainly on continuous gags, ‘The Family Tree’ diversifies itself by subtly infusing jokes into serious situations. For example, there’s one scene where Eric points one of his guns at his bedroom door. Jack walks in to talk to him at that moment, and immediately jumps to the conclusion that his son’s pointing the gun at him, so he takes it away. While Jack thinks his son learned a lesson, Eric just takes out another gun from his drawer. While the scene reiterates the important lesson that no one should point a gun at anyone else, it’s also amusing that Jack knows so little about Eric’s hobby and intentions.
With such diverse characters, even within the Burnett family, the comedy-drama proves that no matter what stage people are in their life, they’re still searching for their identity. With Jack caring solely about advancing in his career, Bunnie only caring about appearances before her accident, Kelly lashing out at everyone around her and Eric seeking acceptance among people who claim to be religious but seek solace in drugs and guns, the characters’ morals are constantly being questioned. But even amongst such diversity and conflicting ethical values, the audience comes to realize that everyone should embrace others for their differences.
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