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Family Weekend

2013 | 106 min | R | 2.39:1

Family Weekend


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Theatrical release date

 29 March, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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Family Weekend


Family Weekend Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, March 28, 2013

“Family Weekend” doesn’t travel very far as a comedy, and it isn’t nearly as touching as the screenwriter would like to believe. It’s a picture stuck in mediocrity, attempting to form something heartwarming with a premise that demands a consistent blast of acid. A forceful lead performance from Olesya Rulin manages to take command of the movie, but her concentration is supported by a production that’s overwritten and tonally unsteady, in need of a more judicious editor and a game plan to approach the steady erosion of marriage with a profound hit of honesty, not just a sitcom-style presentation of forced therapy.

Filled with pride as she enters a heated jump rope competition, teen Emily (Olesya Rulin) is crushed to find that nobody in her family has elected to cheer her on. Returning home in a foul mood, Emily observes her businesswoman mother Samantha (Kristin Chenoweth) and pothead artist father Duncan (Matthew Modine) at odds once again, engaged in a bitter distance that’s leading them to divorce. The toxic relationship has also distorted the kids, finding filmmaker Jackson (Eddie Hassell) faking homosexuality to present himself with an identity, 10-year-old Lucinda (Joey King) taking to living as R-rated movie characters to retreat from reality, and young Robbie remaining withdrawn, content to live in his own world. Fed up with the situation, Emily commences a plan to drug her parents, tying them up in chairs so the high-strung girl can detail the ills of the family, hoping to encourage Samantha and Duncan to work out their woes and reunite as a couple. While the scheme takes off without a hitch, the arrival of school classmate Kat (Chloe Bridges) complicates the day’s healing activities, with Emily’s actions posted online for the world, and the police, to see.

Screenwriter Matt K. Turner brings together various dramatic speeds for “Family Weekend,” endeavoring to build a dark comedy with syrup running through its veins. For those with terrific multiplex memories, perhaps the last time this premise was brought to the screen was in 1996’s “House Arrest.” However, times have changed since that film’s trapped-in-a-basement routine. For 2013, the revolution is televised on social media to keep pressure on Emily, while the parents are more forcibly detained by their middle child, downing spiked wine before waking up bound to office chairs, finding their captor open to tape and gags to make herself heard. While originality isn’t present, the potential to forcefully extract the tensions of the home is readily available, with two strident personalities in the form of Samantha and Duncan in dire need of a rude awakening.

Turner has a sharp character in Emily, a Type A teen with a fierce determination to rule with her gifts of competitive jump roping, while planning the schedule of her domestic takeover on a series of post-it notes, timing reconciliation steps to the minute before she’s off to the Big Game finale. In the film’s standout performance, Rulin conjures the eye of the tiger, embodying Emily’s laser focus and short temper, exasperated with the slackers and bullies she’s surrounded by. It’s marvelously measured and communicated work from the actress, who captures Emily’s intensity and desperation without falling into an overly mannered fussbudget attitude. Also friendly to the feature is Shirley Jones, who pops up as Emily’s live-in grandmother GG, managing Turner’s persistent quirk better than Chenoweth and Modine, who play moaning caricatures instead of an authentically strained married people, burdened with pushover writing that makes a predictable mess out of corporate tightwad and stoned, infantilized artist cliches.

“Family Weekend” makes an earnest attempt to attack the troubles of the household, finding Emily arranging a game show for her parents to play, while the entire clan is sucked into puppet therapy to help air their grievances. The torture of intimate communication is portioned out in a cutesy manner to ward off the creepiness of the hostage situation, but there’s not enough bite to the script, finding early bitterness dissolving into aching hearts as the day wears on and Samantha and Duncan begin to explore their divide. The sentimentality doesn’t feel authentic, it’s programmed, with director Benjamin Epps failing to build up the emotional energy in the room in a combustible way that could plausibly change to tears once these cold hearts melt. There’s also an issue of eccentricity, greeting Lucinda as a lover of hard-R escapism, dressing up as Iris from “Taxi Driver,” Mr. Blonde from “Reservoir Dogs” (playfully recreating the ear-slicing scene), and Alex from “A Clockwork Orange.” It’s an odd gag that’s reaching for irreverence, but the time seems better spent investigating true fractures in the family.

Overlong at 105 minutes, “Family Weekend” eventually doesn’t know when to quit, prolonging the story beyond its natural point of closure to generate a “Little Miss Sunshine” climax that exits the film on a note of bandaged unification. It’s a 20 minute extension that turns an acceptably muddled movie into a test of patience, making the viewer feel as though they’ve been drugged and taped to a chair as well.

Starring: Kristin Chenoweth, Matthew Modine, Olesya Rulin, Joey King, Shirley Jones

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