Author(s): Douglas Reese
"Our Family Exactly"
Directed by Jason Reitman
Written by Jason Reitman and Peter Hedges
Produced by Peter Hedges, Jason Reitman, David O. Russell, Russell Smith, and Mark Woolway
Edited by Dana E. Glauberman
Jason Bateman … Teddy Heston
Kathy Bates … Deborah Harris
Zooey Deschanel … Prudence
James Franco … William Kramer
Josh Hartnett … Ethan Kramer
Mary-Louise Parker … Becky Paulson
Scott Wilson … Bob Harris
Tagline: "Nothing Brings a Family Together Quite Like a Nice Punch in the Jaw"
Somewhere in America
He asked to stay for only a few weeks. How many would that be? Three, four, or I dread – five? He’s my brother, yes, but William is such an irritating person to be under the same roof with. Trashy, still on heroin no matter how many times he says he isn’t, he sits there; most of the times watching my TV, while I am at work as news station editor, struggling to feed myself as it is.
After dealing with William’s aggravations for three long days, I get a call from mom. She is stunned to see William back with the family and asks me to prepare Christmas for the entire family, which includes out older sister Becky, her fiancé Teddy, and stepdad Bob. Why is everything crashing in on me this one rigid week? William offers to help, but instead leaves to “find a job”. I’m impatient with him. When he arrives back home, he brings along a blonde woman who calls herself Prudence. She is a beautiful girl, no matter how lewd her clothing and behavior is, and she is constantly singing Beatles songs. She’s a nice girl - offers to help raise money for the dinner. I’m not one to pass the offer up since she makes quite a bit of cash. Prostitution pays well.
Christmas dinner has to be perfect. More than perfect … it has to be impeccable! Mom always has to have things more ideal than the usual normal person. She’s the kind of person who would cause a ruckus over a piece of lint on the floor. She’s stuck with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and also with a very fowl mouth, which sadly, the whole family is stuck with as well. Stepdad Bob is a quiet old fellow. About ten years older than mom, they’ve been married for ten years, and the only words Bob really says is the prayers before dinner, and to every once in a while tell mom: “Shut up, Deborah.”
Our sister Becky is the odd one. She was adopted when mom was in her late twenties. It’s quite obvious she’s not blood related since she is more calm and collective than the rest of us. Becky is the typical overworked mid-aged woman, even though she only just recently, at the age of 42, found the one man she would like to spend the rest of her life with. Teddy is a peculiar doctor, lacking much of any charisma and one who seems to hold more control with Becky’s life than with his own.
December 25 finally comes around. Prudence really did help out and she stays for the dinner as William’s girlfriend. The whole family arrives and we eat, listening to the harsh words of the critical mother, she finds the food pure crap. Bob tries to gain control of her, but fails. She remains the biggest disturbance of the day. But, Prudence has problems of her own as her pimp, Snoopy, appears at the door to start trouble with William. And to top it all off, Teddy threatens to leave Becky after mom tells him a story of a sexual dilemma Becky had as a teenager. And I sit back and I watch.
What a wonderful reunion for my wonderful family…
What the Press would say:
From Academy Award-nominated writer/director Jason Reitman, “Our Family Exactly” is the quirky and dark indie comedy that Reitman and co-writer Peter Hedges (“Dan in Real Life”) whimsically construct a family torn to pieces by one another, but also portrays it an almost brutally humorous setting – bringing forth a comedy for the ages that one can laugh and shed a tear at. Locating their story in December of 1987 – “Somewhere in America”, Reitman brings forth a flavorful period with quirky style to introduce the family individually from the point of the view of the middle child, Ethan, whom actor Josh Hartnett portrays with a straightforward premise that makes you believe that he may be the only ripe apple in the family tree. His family is constantly putting him down, but he only stands aligned with himself and sees his family as sick, and as if he needs to do things for them no matter how frustrating they can be.
As his younger brother William, James Franco brings a very harsh look at a drug addict, scarred for life by an uncontrollable addiction, but hides it with his quietness, and with the kindness he tries so hard to project, even though most of the time he fails and gets negative reactions from his kin. When he meets the prostitute Prudence, he doesn’t take note that she is a hooker and that is why he pays so much to her - because her job cannot disrupt what they have. Actress Zooey Deschanel brings such brightness to her character that one remembers long after leaving the theater.
The boys’ mother, Deborah, is the kind of character that could easily be played to exaggerated lengths. Instead, Oscar-winner Kathy Bates takes Deborah’s over-the-top qualities and pushes them under the rug to make it seem as if Deborah is keenly aware, but clearly unapologetic, for her words and actions that always upset others. But Bates also portrays a sweet side. While Deborah is totally rude, she finds time in loving her husband Bob, no matter how much Bob seems to be embarrassed around her in front of their own relatives. Scott Wilson also makes Bob seem the same. Caring and loving for his wife, but somewhat obscure and distant from everybody else. He’s been in the family for ten years, but he instead shows quietness unlike Deborah’s loud and obnoxious behavior.
Mary-Louise Parker plays adopted sister, Becky. Parker doesn’t let Becky touch anywhere but strong-willed, even though at times she is shown as being naïve. While many look at her this way, she follows along until her performance turns full-throttle during a scene involving Deborah’s questions concerning Teddy’s demanding control over Becky’s actions. Becky shows rage that her mother would think that she would be too dumb to recognize. “We’re working on it,” she tells her, and Parker makes for greatness with her many layers in this sequence, as well with the scenes involving Teddy, whom Jason Bateman illustrates with great complexity. He is not a likable guy, and he is actually quite rude to everyone. But there is still that love that he has somewhere in him that keeps the viewer from fully despising him. The scene in which Deborah tells him of Becky’s sexual promiscuity as a teen, he is destructed, heartbroken. And a scene in the parking lot shows his pain without being typical romance movie convolutions, and instead a heartbreaking look at this couple falling apart even though they do share that love for one another. In this case, family has ruined their relationship, but cannot stop their emotional bond.
This is the truth that “Our Family Exactly” depicts. That family is both destructive and irritating, even though at times quite pleasant and memorable. These are themes that have fallen into cliché hell in other films, but under Jason Reitman’s direction of his and Peter Hedges’ screenplay, we see pure realism seeping through the many comical situations. A brilliant, tour-de-force screenplay that zips unforgettable dialogue, and uncanny characters for the actors to bring wonder to, that one falls in love with every inch of it, knowing that without that wonderful script, the film would not remain as poignantly funny as it is.
What the film is most remembered for, however, is the beautifully constructed ending involving Ethan giving his Christmas gift to the family. A gift best left unsaid and up to the viewer to see for themselves after enduring the movie’s marvelous moments. All that should be given away, however, is that the gift is one that leaves all of the family members, especially Deborah, in tears as they realize how important they are to one another. This scene is so well-directed and strikingly written that it proves the genius of the screenplay, Reiman’s talents, and how amazing comedy can be. This is comedy done right…
For Your Consideration:
Best Original Screenplay
Best Actor (Josh Hartnett)
Best Supporting Actor (Jason Bateman, James Franco, or Scott Wilson)
Best Supporting Actress (Kathy Bates, Zooey Deschanel, or Mary-Louise Parker)
Best Film Editing