Below director Anne Renton shares a scene from her dark comedy “The Perfect Family,” which sees Kathleen Turner turning in her first on-screen lead performance in almost two decades. The film opens in select theaters and hits VOD today.
Suburban supermom Eileen Cleary (played by Turner) is the ultimate Catholic. And when she’s nominated for the coveted Catholic Woman of the Year Award at her local parish, only one final test remains—introducing her family to the church board for the seal of approval. Eileen must prove that her family conforms to the image of the “perfect family” as envisioned by the church, an image she’s put forth (with considerable effort) her whole life. Struggling to make her family “acceptable”, Eileen is forced to confront a few very revealing truths about the world she lives in. Her gay daughter, Shannon (Emily Deschanel), is about to marry her life partner. Her unhappily married son Frank Jr. (Jason Ritter) is having an affair with the local manicurist. And Eileen’s own marriage to a recovered alcoholic is pulling at the seams. Ultimately Eileen has to examine herself and the consequences of her choices to decide what is truly important in her life.
LEADING UP TO THE SCENE
In the previous scene we see Eileen at her weekly ladies church meeting. She discovers that her nemesis Agnes Dunn (Sharon Lawrence) is handing out a petition to stop gays and lesbians from adopting children. Eileen hides the fact her daughter is a lesbian, therefore placing herself in what she considers a very difficult position. As Eileen signs the petition at the end of the scene, we see the overwhelming guilt she feels, which then precipitates telling her daughter the truth.
For Eileen’s daughter Shannon, this is the point she feels she is beginning to build a foundation with her mother, making this piece of news incredibly devastating. The backdrop for the scene is in Shannon’s loft, which is spacious, light and modern. My DP and I worked to find the places we could visually enhance the differences between Shannon and Eileen’s worlds. Eileen’s house is darker and dated looking (like it is still in the late 70’s), reflecting her lack of change. When Eileen first enters Shannon’s world it is completely foreign to her.
This scene was filmed simply, allowing the emotionality of the performances to highlight what we hope the viewers ultimately focused on. And editing these moments created a delicate balance for the comedy and the drama to live side by side. We only had a few takes of each set up as we were constantly on a tight time frame. In fact, we shot the whole film in 19 days!
It was important in this scene that the actors truly experienced the emotional truth of each moment, which they did beautifully. In Eileen’s case, we see the inherent belief that “her way is the right way”, though everything that is unfolding before her is beginning to to shake that hypothesis. For Shannon, everything circles around her acknowledgment of the deep disbelief and anger towards her mom.
When you see the film in its entirety, the remaining pieces of this scene unravel to reveal the consequences both characters face for their decisions.