Maybe this Thanksgiving your mom tells you how disappointed she is in your choice of career, or your dad completely forgets what your career is. Maybe your creepy uncle gets drunk and says something inappropriate. Maybe your younger cousins just won’t… stop … texting. Maybe your parents’ friends ask you who you’re dating or when you’re going to get married/have kids/become President. Yeah, families can suck on the holidays. But we guarantee that your family is not as bad as any of the families below. Be thankful.
“American Beauty” (1999)
It’s hard to decide which family in “American Beauty” is more dysfunctional. There’s the suburban family from hell complete with a perverted father going through a mid-life crisis, his cheating wife selling real estate on Prozac and their alternative daughter giving peep shows through her bedroom window. Next door, there’s the repressed homophobe Neo-Nazi who beats his drug-dealing son and ignores his catatonic wife. So, take your pick. Sam Mendes’s satirical film takes a close look inside of what the American dream really consists. Similar to his other film, “Revolutionary Road,” Mendes seem concerned with the deconstruction — or rather complete disintegration — of the American suburban mask of perfection. So, when thinking about what you’re thankful for this Thursday, just be thankful you don’t live in Lester Burnham’s house.
“August: Osage County” (2013)
Good grief these people are awful. Meryl Streep stars as Violet, the Weston family matriarch, a woman so bitter and hateful that her husband up and killed himself because he couldn’t take it anymore. Enter her three daughters: Julia Roberts as Barbara, Juliette Lewis as Karen and Julianne Nicholson as Ivy. All three women ended up taking after their mother, but not as much as Barbara, whose sheer wretchedness lead to her husband having an affair. (See a sexist pattern here?) The entire plot of the film revolves around Papa Weston’s suicide and the resulting aftermath, which culminates in a full out brawl between Violet and Barbara. The scene may be hilarious, but this family is definitely one you should consider yourself lucky not to have been born into.
“Black Swan” (2010)
Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” is a grotesque, mind-bending drama that chronicles the spiraling psychosis of aspiring ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) — a descent into madness that is not only perpetuated by Nina’s inherent anxiety and perfectionism, but also, perhaps more importantly, exacerbated by her overbearing mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey), who herself used to be a dancer. As the film progresses, mother and daughter find their relationship pushed to its breaking point, eventually erupting into violence. Who could forget the scene where Nina crushes her mother’s fingers in the door jamb, as she tries to prevent her from entering her bedroom? Nina and Erica’s contentious relationship also functions as a major point of speculation both during and after the film, as many fans have argued that certain scenes in the film suggest that Nina’s psychological breakdown may have been triggered by years of sexual abuse at the hand of her mother.
“The Celebration” (1998)
Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s explosive drama “The Celebration” (or “Festen” as it’s known in his home country) centers on an affluent family and the catastrophic secrets that tear them to shreds. Reuniting at the 60th birthday party for respected patriarch Helge (Henning Moritzen), the family can barley cope with the recent suicide of youngest daughter Linda before new bombshells threaten to obliterate any ties that might remain among them. It would be a crime to spoil just what exactly sets this grave family turmoil in motion, but just be warned that surrounding yourself with this subversively disturbed clan will yield an unforgettable cinematic experience. As the first film created by Vinterberg under the naturalistically stripped rules of Dogma 95 filmmaking, the drama doesn’t just show you a family in irreversible free fall, it forces you to feel the whiplash of familial deconstruction all on your own. As the handheld camera whips around the party and captures fights and conversations with a dangerous level of intimacy, “The Celebration” evolves into a nasty little masterpiece about the ones we love most. At least you’ll be thankful you’re family isn’t as dark and twisted as Helge’s.
“The Heat” (2013)
When we’re first introduced to Mullins’ (Melissa McCarthy) mother, she’s flipping the bird to her daughter out the window of a moving van. That’s not the worst part, though. The worst part is the demented glee with which she does so, a smile from ear-to-ear stretched across actress Jane Curtin’s face. It only gets worse for McCarthy’s hard-ass cop, as she returns home to face a family stupidly upset with her for arresting her own brother. Their exaggerated Bahston accents may be funny, but the vehement loathing still stings.
“Home Alone” (1990)
For anyone with a family like the McCallisters, being left home alone for the holidays might not sound half bad. In the first ten minutes of the film, poor Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) has to deal with bed-wetting bunkmates, unsatisfactory pizza toppings and a mother who ignores his existence until she’s on a plane halfway to Paris. Suddenly spending the holidays with the Shovel Slayer next door feels like a pleasant alternative. But of course the film wouldn’t be the Christmas classic it is without a warm, fuzzy ending: The McCallister’s make it back home just in time to reunite with their son for Christmas. And in light of his traumatic near-death experience, Kevin is finally able to accept that his family situation could be a whole lot worse.
“Rachel Getting Married” (2008)
Some families are mean, cruel, or twisted in a very bad way (see the rest of this list for examples of each). But the family at the center of “Rachel Getting Married,” Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-nominated 2008 drama, is pretty much the antithesis of those negative adjectives. They’re forgiving to a fault, letting Anne Hathaway’s Kym skate by doing whatever she wants for too long, eventually resulting in some ultimately awkward family moments at Rachel’s titular wedding. By being so concerned about Kym’s fragile state, their leniency almost ruins the most important weekend of her sister’s life. It’s not that you wouldn’t have fun with this family, joking at a rehearsal dinner and racing to put away dishes. It’s that the fun ain’t worth it once the truths start pouring out.
“The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001)
“I always wanted to be a Tenenbaum, you know?” Yes, I do, but you shouldn’t. Mr. Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) expressed the above sentiment which has become a somewhat common wish among Wes Anderson fans. The colorful style and impressive intellect of the Tenenbaums is carefully captured (and created) by the beloved indie icon, but claiming a desire to be part of such a dysfunctional family shows an ignorance to what “The Royal Tenenbaums” is really about. These kids suffered through their childhood to become completely arrested adults incapable of interacting with the real world. Royal (Gene Hackman), while fascinating to behold from a distance, would make for a frustrating father figure if instilled in your life. Eli may not have turned out so well himself, but he may have had a better shot had he desired to be part of a friendlier family.
“Savage Grace” (2007)
What happens when Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne and Hugh Dancy star in a film based on the scandalous and tragic life of socialite Barbara Daly Baekeland? A threesome between Moore, Redmayne (who is playing her son) and Dancy. The shocking ménage à trois is as about as disturbing as it gets in director Tom Kalin’s take on the Baekeland story. Redmayne is Tony, who gets no help or guidance from his luxurious mother Barbara (Moore) who starts to fall apart at the seams after her husband leaves her for a younger woman. The twisted co-dependency that forms between her and Tony is highlighted after a failed suicide attempt on her behalf where Tony nurses the wounds on her wrists. She is also the one to start an incestuous affair with her son. Traveling back and forth between America and European countries, both of their mental and physical states deteriorate, despite the glamorous exterior of their lives, to the very end –where Tony sits on a floor eating Chinese takeout with his mother’s dead body not far behind.
“Silver Linings Playbook” (2012)
Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) have their issues but manage to find love in the end — but so much more unravels in David O. Russell’s rom-com drama. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder and sent away to a mental institution, Pat returns to Philadelphia to live with his parents. Pat’s father, Pat Sr. (Robert Di Niro) is a jobless gambler. One of the most awkward scenes of the film is when Pat visits his friend Ronnie (John Ortiz) and his wife Veronica (Julia Stiles) for dinner. Ronnie’s wife’s sister happens to be Tiffany, struggling with the aftermath of her husband’s death. The dinner degenerates the moment Tiffany starts screaming at her sister, “You love it when I have problems, you love it, you love it…because then you can be the good one, just say it” to which Veronica insists that she just wanted to have a nice dinner. Haven’t we all heard that one before?
“Star Wars” (1977)
Fun fact — up until Lucasfilm’s acquisition by Disney in 2012, the “Star Wars” franchise technically counted as a series of independent films (Lucasfilm maintained the rights, and only worked with Fox on distribution). Probably for the best, because if “Star Wars” had fallen under the Disney umbrella, could it have gotten away with this family-friendly tale? Remember, the “Star Wars” saga tells the story of a young man whose adoptive parents lied to him his entire life about his family. And that might have been a good thing, because his grandmother was raped to death by sand people, his grandfather wasn’t actually human but instead was maybe midi-chlorians, his father was a power-mad despot responsible for the murder of billions and his mother died in childbirth because “she lost the will to live.” But that might have also been a bad thing, because while his twin sister grew up to be pretty cool, it took them a few years to figure out that they were related and some making out occurred in the intervening years. So, sucks to be a Skywalker. Hopefully, the next generation fares better in Episode 7.