Synopsis: In THE PERFECT FAMILY, suburban mother and devout Catholic Eileen Cleary (Kathleen Turner) has always kept up appearances. When she runs for the Catholic Woman of the Year title at her local parish-an award she has coveted for years-her final test is introducing her family to the board for the seal of approval. Now she must finally face the nonconformist family she has been glossing over for years. Her gay daughter, Shannon (Emily Deschanel), a successful lawyer, is about to marry her life partner Angela (Angelique Cabral). Her unhappily married son Frank Jr. (Jason Ritter) is cheating on his wife with the local manicurist. And Eileen’s own marriage to a recovered alcoholic is pulling at the seams.
Release Date: May 4, 2012 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Comedy, Dark Comedy
The mere idea of there being a “perfect family” in today’s modern landscape is worthy of a laugh. The Perfect Family admits to this fact, throwing in The Catholic Church as an anchor to an otherwise imperfect family under the guise of perfection in the eyes of the Church. Eileen Cleary (Kathleen Turner) is the matriarch of the family, and a devout catholic. She spends her days volunteering at the Church, bringing meals to those who need help, and confessing her sins on a daily basis with the hope that she may not go to hell. All Eileen seems to want is absolution from all of her sins, and her dream may just come true when she is nominated for the Catholic Woman Of The Year award; the prize being having the Archbishop of Dublin perform the prayer of absolution for the winner. Now all Kathleen has to do is show that she is the greatest catholic woman in her parish, even with her less-than-perfect family.
You could call Eileen naive, or ignorant, for the fact that she does not see her children, and relationship with her husband, in an honest light. The truth is that Eileen’s daughter Shannon (Emily Deschanel) is a lesbian who has lived with her partner for six years, is pregnant with their child, and about to get married. Her son Frank (Jason Ritter), has been unhappily married ever since he was forced to marry the girl he got pregnant in high school. Upon realizing this he has left his wife and is dating the local manicurist whom he was previously having an affair. As for Eileen’s husband Frank (Michael McGrady), the recovering alcoholic, she has yet to forgive his past actions and build an actual relationship with him sober–their marriage is nothing short of a sham at this point. This is the real family Eileen Cleary has and in order for her to win the award she feels she must keep the truth from the Church. Pretending to have the perfect family is easier than accepting the flawed one you do have.
The Perfect Family explores Eileen’s journey to accepting her family as they are, regardless of whether it is seen as perfect, or acceptable, in the eyes of the Church. Her journey is full of humor and the occasional painful revelation. Even Eileen has secrets she has been hiding for years, things that would paint her in an unflattering light with the Church. With an outstanding performance by Kathleen Turner as Eileen, The Perfect Family balances the wells of emotions of one woman coming to terms with her life. It is a film that does not shy away from the honesty of such a situation as pinning the Church against modern family existence. It surprises in its refreshing take on how the Church may not be as old-fashioned and strict as one, including Eileen, may expect. The Perfect Family embraces imperfection, and denounces the entire idea of there being a perfect family, to the audience’s delight.
Kathleen Turner shows up now and again with a guest appearance on a Television show or a small part in a feature film. Trying to recall her last leading performance is difficult, and she is most remembered as of late for playing Chandler’s Drag-Queen Father on “Friends”. In the 1980s this was not the case, and Kathleen Turner was a movie star making soon-to-be-classic films such as Romancing The Stone and Prizzi’s Honor. Turner has always been a great and memorable talent in every role she has played, even when it is just her husky voice as Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The Perfect Family stands completely on Turner’s shoulders as the matriarch of the Cleary family, Eileen; Turner does not disappoint.
Eileen is a tortured soul, who believes even with her daily confessional visits that she is afraid she will go to hell for her sins. The most thoughtful and dedicated Church volunteer, who always makes the extra effort, is also incredibly vulnerable and full of secrets. These secrets she cannot even share with her Priest, or her family. Turner approaches the character of Eileen with all of the intensity of a woman determined to prove to herself that she is worthy via the Church’s Woman of the Year awards, while also demonstrating the incredible insecurities and fear she has about herself and her ability to keep her family together. Faced with one obstacle after another, that test her faith in her Church and her own belief system, Turner is audacious. When Eileen watches her daughter marry her female partner Turner’s face is a plethora of emotions; she is uncomfortable to the point of illness, panicking to the point of her face being unable to control its movements, and stoically composed, all within seconds of one another, until she snaps. When the part calls for dark humor, in the form of dialogue or a reaction, Turner delivers the dead-pan lines superbly; as if without any effort or thought she can state her husband Frank is a drunk or wave a bottle of “Harlot Red” nail polish in front of her son’s lover. Her face never flinches, her emotions remain untouched and unshakable. Eileen is a complicated character, and Kathleen Turner gives such an incredibly strong performance that a viewer would be hard-pressed to not be thoroughly focused, bewildered, and absolutely amazed at her talent.
The Catholic Church has been under fire for years, with multiplying scandals of the sordid sort making news headlines. Movies have always worked against The Catholic Church, and the films that do not are forgotten from memory far quicker than those who question the morals, actions, and beliefs the Pope sets for his followers. The Perfect Family is centered around the lead character’s relationship with the Church, but this relationship is not shown as negative or warranting admonishing the Church’s beliefs. On the contrary, there is not a feeling of condemning the Church for that which it believes. The film stands to show that while the Church may hold firm beliefs on certain things, in this case primarily gay marriage and the raising of children in a same-sex union, not everyone who is a member of The Catholic Church upholds these beliefs. There is room for change, and adapting to the different ways of life the modern world has set in motion.
It should be applauded then that Screenwriter’s Paula Goldberg and Claire V. Riley paint a picture in The Perfect Family of one woman’s struggle to accept her family and her Church without having to compromise either. It is not the Church that stands in Eileen Clary’s way at having the “perfect family,” but her own insecurities about herself. Eileen has a great many things to overcome, and the Church does as well; The Perfect Family demonstrates that the struggle of a Catholic woman to admit perfection is relative, and acceptance is possible inside a Church whose rules may dictate otherwise wholly possible. The Catholic Church is not the enemy in The Perfect Family, the belief that one must hide their respective flaws, or dysfunctional attempts at familial perfection, is at the core of the story. The story could have easily gone another way, making Eileen have to choose between her faith and her family. Graciously such is not the case, and viewer’s get a more positive, and two-sided view of The Catholic Church–flaws and strengths creating together a non-denouncing view.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Anne Renton
- Producer(s): Jennifer DubinCora Olson
- Screenwriter(s): Paula GoldbergClaire V. Riley
- Cast: Kathleen Turner (Eileen Cleary)Emily Deschanel (Shannon Cleary)Jason Ritter (Frank Cleary Jr.) Michael McGrady (Frank Cleary)Richard Chamberlain (Monsignor Murphy)Elizabeth Pena (Christina Rayes)Sharon Lawrence (Agnes Dunn)
- Editor(s): Christopher Kroll
- Cinematographer: Andre Lascaris
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s): Ronnie Yeskel
- Music Score: Andrew Kaiser
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA