Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Decade in Review, Revisited: Filial Love

The Family Stone was regarded as something of a flop when it opened at the end of 2005. I have a wan appreciation for the film, even with its egregious faults (it is a bit too prosaic at times, no?). One of the things it does manage to pull off, for the most part, is the rapport between siblings. I’m still most impressed with Diane Keaton’s somewhat acerbic mother-bear, but The Family Stone is most interesting when it takes a look at the sibling pairings, even if I don’t understand them. Claire Danes and Sarah Jessica Parker must be two of the oddest cinematic sisters I can recall. Their relation, despite it’s nicety, is a bit problematic though. The film sees Parker’s Meredith being left out of her prospective fiancĂ©’s family gathering. For some inexplicable the family however falls head over heels in love with Meredith’s sister. Even odder, despite their apparent loathing of Meredith they easily acquiesce to Meredith’s eventual dalliance with his bohemian brother. Odd indeed. But I forgive them their contrivances, because it’s all so sincerely acted. I like seeing siblings onscreen, it’s rarely seen as the A-plot, though.
I’ve never been fond of Rachel McAdams – she doesn’t strike me as particularly talented. But her cantankerous Amy is just right without being exaggerated. I hate that she and Mulroney have so little screen time with each other; they do have that peculiar bit of chemistry that works as siblings. It reminds me of Keira Knightley and Patrick Kennedy in Atonement. Yes, Atonement is remembered for its sister/sister pairing, but that moment when Cecilia comes running down the stairs to hug her brother (“I’ve been going doolally here, without you.” She says.) is nicely played. Atonement finds its charm in never giving us more information than necessary, but I do wonder if Cee really did never speak to him again. It’s a bit of a find to see a brother and sister who don’t hate each other. Much of Freaky Friday encompasses Anna fostering a misguided loathing of her brother. I still don’t really understand people who loathe their siblings…but I suppose being on the same wavelength with a sibling is weird. If I could call any 2006 movie a guilty pleasure it might be Nancy Meyers’ The Holiday. One of my favourite random moments come midway through the film when an incensed Iris (Kate Winslet) realises that her brother, Graham (Jude Law), has slept with her house guest. I recent Meyers just a little for pairing Jude and Kate in a movie with hardly any contact, but the strange niceness of the conversation is a treat – in its way. It’s random, but believable. It’s a bit like the relationship of the siblings in another Meyers film – It’s Complicated – another rare treat where siblings (gasp) actually don’t hate each other. A comment on IMDB amused me, a fan said he doubted the film’s realism because the siblings were just too close. Zoe Kazan still annoys me to no end (like she did in The Private Lives of Pippa Lee), but the connection among the Hunter Parrish, Lake Bell and even Kazan is a key part of why the movie charms me, even if I still don’t love it.
Dreamgirls has an entire subplot of sorts dedicated to the brother/sister turmoil. I don’t exactly buy it, Hudson’s skill of a drama actress is…well, sparse. Effie is a bit of a bully, so I don’t exactly blame C. C. for his actions, though I would have liked if they’d kept the number “Effie, Sing My Song”. It wasn’t as authentic as other sibling pairings, but the attempt was poignant in its own way. I think of Paul Dano and Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine and I always smile (the former of which I’d have given an Oscar or something akin). That single moment where Olive comes out of the bus to hug him on the grass erases any disbelief I would usually have at the craziness (albeit hilarity) of the film; she probably got it from her mother who's letting her brother stay with the family, despite his mental drama. Of course, when it comes to brothers and sisters no films resonate as much as You Can Count on Me and The Savages, incidentally both starring Laura Linney. I’m more in love with the former, but the profundity of sibling relationships is handled brilliantly in both. It’s not often we see such a relationship on screen, but few moments of the decade were as honestly emotional as those last few in You Can Count on Me
For some reasons, brothers don’t always have each others’ back When I think of brothers this past decade I immediately think of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead – and that’s not a pleasant picture of sibling relationships.  I suppose Richard Kind and Michael Stuhlberg in A Serious Man are a step up, but they're not ideal either. I’m still conflicted on the film, and even the relationship between the brothers confuses me at times, Larry’s dream seems just a little too fanciful and pat for me to take it at face value. It’s the same way I still don’t believe Wilson’s Ben and Mulroney’s Everett can really be that close of brothers when the credits role for the The Family Stone, but maybe that’s just me. Eric Bana spends the entire of Troy fighting a battle for his brother, a battle I don’t think he believes. That’s a rare bit of brotherly love right there. I like Troy, so does Heather so I’m not alone, I like Orlando Bloom in it too (I wish he’d do something more before having to resort to a life as Legolas). I’m much less wont to accept that Tommy’s good deeds in Brothers are because of his devotion to his brother, although I’m probably cynical like that. I still wish the film had examined a little more of the relationship between the two, Maguire and Gylenhaal are quite believable as brothers.
Casting is important with siblings, I believe in the siblings in Finding Neverland, even though they never really have any significant amount of interaction. I believe in Heather Ledger and Matt Damon in The Brothers’ Grimm too. It’s one of many films that suffered from a misleading ad campaign, but I like it – in its way. I don’t like Matt’s other brother/brother pairing, Stuck On You. The film leaves me with a bad taste in the mouth. I suppose brothers are better as antagonists than being joined at the hip. Who could forget William Hurt and Viggo Mortenson in A History of Violence? Not I. They meet for a few moments, but I’m damned if it isn’t the strongest portion of an already strong film. Am I the only one who’d be interested in a prequel of them back in their heyday as gangsters?
Antagonistic sisters are just as common, though I still wonder if Briony ever harboured any hate towards her sister. Those few minutes at the beginning of Atonement where Keira and Saoirse lounge on the grass are so well played. I suppose, in her way, Briony thought she was helping – but there’s something so disingenuous about her, especially in Ronan’s characterisation. It’s why I cling all the more to the older Briony’s meeting with her. I’m won over to easily by Romola, but still. Keira and she work well together, even though it’s mere moments. But who doesn’t Keira work well with? Pride & Prejudice is still so enjoyable simply because those five actresses make a believable quintet of sisters. Rosamund and Keira gossiping in their bedroom after the first meeting with Darcy Bingley retains all the ease of Austen’s prose, and that alone is difficult. I’m even willing to believe Elizabeth would be so strong (and hard) headed about a vicarious thrill at seeing her sister happily married. Let me revert to Romola, though. I didn’t enjoy I Capture the Castle, even though it proves that Romola is more than worthy of a leading role. I’m mixed on what I think of Rose Byrne, though. The two work but then again they don’t. It’s a bit like Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette in In Her Shoes. I always find that pairing unequivocally odd every time I think of it. It just doesn’t seem logical, even though the film is sweet in its bauble like way (and Shirley MacLaine is always a plus). Sisters at odds with each other will forever pervade, though. Like Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman in The Other Boleyn – a film I despise as much as it’s horrible source. There’s something just too pedestrian about having Anne and Mary battle for the king’s affection. Natalie rules the film’s first half, and Scarlett the second – though neither of them (or a nice bit role from Kristin Scott Thomas) can salvage the film.
That sort of antagonistic love among sisters occurs in Rachel Getting Married. Sooner or later I think I’ll have to review this film, I don’t love it and I don’t love Anne Hathaway in it – but I find Rosemarie DeWitt to be simply flawless. Overall, the hate/love between the two sisters works; like it does with Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Margot at the Wedding. I only now realise the similarities with the fuckup sister turning up for the other one’s wedding, although acerbic Margot would have the sly Kym for lunch, dessert even. Gosford Park never stays on one subject too long, but the sibling rivalry among Sylvia, Lavinia and Constance is too palpable to ignore – especially when Sylvia’s husband is much too fond of her sister. Kristin Scott Thomas’ other pairing with an actress is more lucrative (sibling wise). A significant portion of I’ve Loved You So Long’s beauty comprises the relationship between the two sisters, who make a tentative start for reunion. In retrospect Elsa Zylberstein is every bit as good as Kristin in her role, though sadly neither woman was really remembered that year. Speaking of ignored, Le Divorce harbours another beautiful sister/sister pairing – Naomi Watts and Kate Hudson – that went by ignored. Kate and Naomi are brilliant together; even in silly bits (a moment where the two imitate bowing swans is beautifully played). It’s the simple moments that make those filial bonds seem real, like in Bright Star Abbie Cornish’s random “I love you!” to her sister after reading one of Keats’ letter. I love that moment in the field, no less because Edie Martin is just an adorable child actor and her line reading of “Fanny wants a knife, to kill herself” never fails to amuse me. In the Upside of Anger the four sisters lay on the grass after their father has left. The four actresses look nothing like each other, and even less like their “mother” Joan Allen – but it all works because they have the believability thing going despite the obvious things working against them...and on the best of days, what more could we ask for?
I’m woefully enamoured by film that feature sibling love prominently, though it’s not all bad when they’re at each others throats. Which of the films featured stand out at you the most this past decade?
Featured Films (Alpha): Atonement (2007), Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007), Bright Star, Brothers (2009), The Brothers Grimm (2005), Le Divorce (2003), Dreamgirls (2006), The Family Stone (2005), Finding Neverland (2004), Freaky Friday (2003), Gosford Park (2001), A History of Violence (2005), The Holiday (2006), I Capture the Castle (2003), In Her Shoes (2005), It’s Complicated (2009), I’ve Loved You So Long (2008), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Margot at the Wedding (2007), The Other Boleyn Girl (2008), Pride & Prejudice (2005), Rachel Getting Married (2008), The Savages (2007), A Serious Man (2009), Stuck On You (2003), Troy (2004), The Upside of Anger (2005), You Can Count On Me (2000)


Luke said...

Wonderful! A great study of sibling bonds in the aughts. I'm definitely with you on Savages and You Can Count... Laura Linney certainly has a knack for interplay with her male co-stars, I guess. I'm however completely the opposite on the Family Stone wavelength. I hated that movie - Claire Danes and Dermont Mulroney were particularly awful in their "I love you all of the sudden" way - and it was the one movie that made me slightly bothered by my beloved Diane Keaton. But you should do a '90s one to follow up - I need some Dashwood discussion! :)

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Thank you very much. I'm inclined to sibling films because I'm close to my sisters. I did find Diane a bit annoying at times in The Family Stone: I was on Team:Meredith (that dinner scene, aye yi yi). But she did a good job of showing why she was so...crazy.

I hadn't planned on doing this for other decades...I just might, not soon though.