Movie REviews REviews by scripture reviews by alphabet
About the CRitic links
                                                Family Values?
All three movies are about family relationships, but the tone varies drastically, as does the judgment about the importance of family values.
            In “The Heartbreak Kid,” Ben Stiller plays a middle-aged bachelor pressured by his friends and family to finally get married. So he meets a nice girl named Lila (Malin Akerman), dates her for a few months, plans a wedding, and now they’re off for a romantic honeymoon on the beach.  Except that she’s soon driving him crazy, and when she gets horribly sunburned and has to stay indoors, he takes the opportunity to hit on another woman, Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), and then kinda forgets to tell her he’s on his honeymoon.  Eventually, of course, the truth unfolds, but our anti-hero isn’t through breaking hearts yet.  After ditching his bride, he becomes obsessed with an idealized Miranda, doing the best he can to break up her marriage, as well.  But in the meantime his eyes have wandered again…Well, this isn’t even worth recounting.  It’s a comedy that’s not only not funny, it’s got a mean streak.  And we’re supposed to root for this self-absorbed, uncharming cad?
            Charm is in short supply in “The Savages,” as well.  An aging widower named Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) living in Sun City , Arizona (unlovingly depicted as Retirement Hell) suddenly finds himself homeless.  It seems he’d been living with a widow there, with whom he had previously signed a legal agreement, that’s like a pre-nup, except it applies to live-in arrangements, as well.  Long and short of it, he’s out on his ear.  And when her (grown) children come to her funeral, they make sure he knows that, and his (grown) children, too.  Since they hadn’t seen their Dad for a while, they quickly realize that he has also developed Alzheimer’s.  So his son (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his daughter (Laura Linney) decide to put him in a nursing home back where they live, in the snowy Northeast.  Lots of awkward scenes, of Dad being temperamental, of brother and sister still having sibling spats, of everyone’s strained relationship with everyone else.  Nobody’s very happy, and nobody really lives happily ever after, either.  We could get misty-eyed about family loyalty through clinched teeth, but where’s the fun in that?
            Nobody’s having much fun in “Lars And The Real Girl,” either, but this movie is an unusual parable about the value of family---and community---relationships, including church members.  It seems that Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) is so shy and withdrawn that he has become a virtual recluse.  He lives next door to his brother (Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law (Emily Mortimer), who love him, but don’t know how to bring him out of his shell, even with them.  At work they just figure he’s introverted, and leave him alone, though Margo (Kelli Garner) appears to be interested if he’d let her in.  Lars goes to church regularly, but then rushes home, closes the door, gently declining the lunch invitation next door, and simply withdraws.  Then one day he suddenly announces he has a girlfriend, and appears with this life-sized, anatomically-correct doll, with whom he carries on conversations that only he can hear.  Nobody quite knows how to handle this, but first the sister-in-law, then the local counselor (Patricia Clarkson) demonstrate how to “play along” with Lars.  And what happens is that Lars starts relating to everyone else, in the company of his inflatable constant companion.  As viewers, we don’t know whether this premise is laughable or somehow it actually works---perhaps a little of both.  But there’s something really redemptive going on here.  People are accepting each other for who they are, even while radical transformations are taking place.  People are committed to each other, and experience grace as a result (which is exactly what’s lacking in “The Savages”).  People hang in there with each other, even when things get a little crazy (which is exactly what’s lacking in “The Heartbreak Kid”).  People don’t give up on each other, which is what commitment is all about.  And people learn from each other in community, and show each other how to be forgiving and accepting, which is what the Church, at its best, is all about.  Is it a little nuts?  Yeah.  But it also delivers an awkward charm all its own.
Questions For Discussion:
1)      Have you ever been part of a decision to put a family member in a nursing home?  Do you feel good about that decision, and its process?
2)      Have you ever made a quick relational commitment which you later regretted as being too hasty?  What did you do about it?
3)      Have you ever had difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality, or known anyone who has?  What’s the “cure”?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas