“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.” – George Bernard Shaw
Every year around this time I have to come to terms with the fact that I just don’t really like the holidays that much. I get saturated by the lights and the music and the advertising, the endless drone of selling things I don’t want to buy. And when I’m being honest with myself, I try to really think about why I have this problem. As I think back, my childhood holiday memories are mostly fond ones, full of trees and presents and family gatherings. Oh, wait a minute. There it is: The Family. It’s the one thing I can’t pick, can’t control, and no matter how far I go, can’t get away from. So, every year, just as I’m about to snap with aggravation and lack of holiday cheer, I try (try) to make the conscious effort of throwing in the towel. I try to embrace my family for what it is (for who each person is), and be thankful that I have people who, for better or for worse, care about me, in whatever twisted form they decide to show it. Quit complaining and get some perspective. Laugh at it, and already it feels better.
So, here are five of my favorite Holiday Dysfunctional Family movies, through which anyone can have a relatable, cathartic, gut-busting experience. And, if nothing else, it’s a couple hours of reprieve from your own holiday madness. Enjoy these and enjoy what you have, because when you dig down, you may realize that you have what you need.
1. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) (Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller, Bill Murray, Gwenyth Paltrow, Danny Glover). You think your family is messed up? The Tenenbaums are over the top. With Gene Hackman as the ever-present/never-present father/husband/lawyer, he fakes a terminal illness to get back into his family’s good graces. Weird sibling relationships and family transmitted neuroses are front and center. Hilarity ensues. You are glad this isn’t your family, but also kind of wish it was.
2. The Ref (1994) (Dennis Leary, Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis). If you need to laugh, watch this film. Dennis Leary (back when he was still a stand up comedian) plays a jewel thief turned mediator who takes a couple hostage in the midst of their self-destruction on their way home from marriage counseling. Leary is entertaining as the voice of reason. Spacey and Davis vividly recreate the delicious vitriol that can only exist between two people who simultaneously love and hate each other. Anyone married, or previously married will relate.
3. Home for the Holidays (1995) (Holly Hunter, Anne Bancroft, Robert Downey, Jr., Charles Durning). Jodie Foster directs this unapologetic spotlight on family dysfunction on Thanksgiving. The meal and conversation is an honest look at the things people in a family say to each other that they would never say to someone else. There’s tension, there’s discomfort, there’s farts. And then there’s the turkey.
4. Four Christmases (2008) (Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon). Children of divorce unite! Two Christmases can be great, but four is just overkill. Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon are a couple who are caught when their yearly holiday avoidance plans fall through and are forced to visit each of their parents’ families for Christmas, all on the same day. It is hard to imagine anything more stressful. Vaughn’s cage-fighting brothers bring just the right violent edge to Christmas back home.
5. A Christmas Story(1983) (Peter Billingsly, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon). A Christmas classic, of course. What boy didn’t want a Daisy Red Ryder? The fantastic leg lamp conflict in which dad nearly steals the show. You won’t put your eye out if you watch this one again.
Other Movies of Note: Christmas Vacation, The Family Stone, Hannah and Her Sisters, Scrooged, Fred Claus, Bad Santa.
What movies have I missed? Post your choices for most delectable dysfunctional depictions of holiday family life.
Andrew D. Kang, JD, LICSW, is a former attorney turned licensed psychotherapist. His practice, Boston Professionals Counseling, LLC, focuses on helping attorneys and professionals with the issues they face and is located in Boston, Massachusetts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.bostonprofessionalscounseling.com