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The Perfect Family; Dark Shadows; The Dictator; film notes
MOVIE REVIEWS
by Sawyer J. Lahr
2012-05-09

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In The Perfect Family, gay icon Kathleen Turner is hilarious as Eileen Clearly, an obsequious Irish mother vying for the honor of Catholic Woman of the Year. This family-oriented, gay-friendly film is director Anne Renton's debut feature following her short film Love is Love, starring Emmy winner Jane Lynch ( Glee ) .

Turner memorably starred in John Water's Serial Mom. Here, she plays a quirky, nervous nelly type whose joyous devotion to the church is tested when she must come clean to the nominating committee and the monsignor—veteran gay actor Richard Chamberlain, once the heartthrob Dr. Kildare in the '60s as well as '80s miniseries such as The Thorn Birds. Turner's talent for physical comedy reaches its full potential as she selfishly tries to conceal her wayward son Frank, Jr. ( Jason Ritter ) and lesbian daughter Shannon ( Emily Deschanel ) in the hope of winning the title.

Squaring off against her primary-school rival, Agnes ( Sharon Lawrence, Desperate Housewives ) , Eileen does a very un-Christian thing by telling a cockamamie story about her model family, all in order to receive the prayer of absolution from the bishop of Dublin, who's visiting the small town to honor the chosen woman.

When her daughter breaks the news that she's a lesbian and carrying a child, Eileen denies it outright. "It's not funny," she says. Despite Eileen's refusal to discuss the matter, the story does lay some guilt on Shannon for holding back the truth for so long. Mothers like Eileen should be given medals just for trying to understand. Turner plays out the traumatizing coming-out dinner with incredible fortitude. She portrays a complex Christian woman trying to hold onto the moral convictions conflicting with her motherly love.

This inspired screenplay, by Claire V. Riley and Paula Goldberg ( Out at the Wedding, Traveling Companion, MTV's Undressed ) , is one of the most affirming stories of a mother's transformation when faced with the opportunity to accept or deny her daughter's homosexuality. Eileen's true test comes when she is asked to sign a church petition to lobby against gay adoption in the state. Only one parishioner speaks out against wasting the Church's time on these issues. Eileen looks around at the women at the table who have signed the petition. Here's where the filmmakers rip your heart out, yet maintain our sympathy for Eileen's tangible dilemma. I could feel her heart and mine crushing at the sound of the pen signing her name to a piece of paper making a political denouncement of her daughter's right to raise a child.

Renton and the writers take the plot in a rosy direction that is not always a reality for many LGBTQIA people, but it is the case for some. I tend to think that life-affirming stories about family acceptance in this regard are cheesy, but this one isn't. It's not fair to mislead audiences that all parents accept their queer children wholeheartedly. Turner carries herself with constant trepidation, especially at her daughter's commitment ceremony—where she squirms in her seat before bursting down the aisle and crashing into a tray of champagne. As if the hijinks weren't enough, Angela's mother lends Eileen a blinged-out burgundy tracksuit with "HOT" sewn in sequins across the butt of the pants. Opens May 11 at AMC River East 21

Previews:

From the all-star producers and designers behind the Tim Burton legacy and the Johnny Depp empire comes Burton's next ambitious project, Dark Shadows, bringing together Oscar winner Richard D. Zanuck ( Alice in Wonderland, Driving Miss Daisy, Jaws ) , Oscar winner Graham King, ( Rango, The Departed ) , Johnny Depp, Christi Dembrowski ( Rum Diary ) and David Kennedy, a partner of Dan Curtis, creator of the Dark Shadows TV series on ABC from 1966-1971.

A fan of the original vampire mystery, producer Johnny Depp eagerly took the role of Barnabas Collins, the young playboy heir to a fishing empire on the coast of Maine in the 1770s. His business savvy fails to save him from falling in love with Josette DuPres ( Bella Heathcote ) and breaking the heart of Angelique Bouchard ( Eva Green ) , a witch who turns Collins into a vampire and buries him alive for two centuries. Collins wakes up in 1972 to a very changed world and his family estate, Collinwood Manor, in shambles. He goes about restoring the failing family business, entrusting his true identity only to Elizabeth Collins Stoddard ( Michelle Pfeiffer ) under the auspices of live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman ( Helena Bonham Carter ) . The latter must be a hilarious interaction considering psychoanalysis had its birth in the late 1800s. The revered four-time Oscar nominated Danny Elfman rejoined Burton evoke the spirit of the original TV series and '70s horror flicks. Elfman has scored for Milk and Good Will Hunting, two films by gay director Gus Van Sant. Christopher Lee ( The Hobbit, Hugo, Star Wars ) , Jonny Lee Miller ( Trainspotting ) and musician Alice Cooper make appearances. Opens May 11

The Dictator is Sacha Baron Cohen's third major anthropological experiment in offending everyone, once again, after playing the scandalous gay Austrian television host Bruno. During a Bruno publicity stunt at a Prop 8 rally in Los Angeles, Cohen's crew assaulted gay director Mike Stiff ( Kink Crusaders ) , who is now making a film about unethical filmmaking entitled The Bruno Project. This time, Cohen plays a Col. Gaddafi-like dictator who does everything in his power to suppress the demand for democracy in his country. Few details have been released about the film prior to the release on May 16.

Film notes:

Husband to Judy Garland and father to Liza Minnelli, gay director Vincent Minnelli's Lust for Life ( 1956 ) plays twice at Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., as part of a tribute to the late Anthony Quinn, who was an Oscar-winning actor, former School of the Art Institute of Chicago student and apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright. Shows Saturday, May 19, 3 p.m. and Thursday, May 24, 6 p.m.

—Almost There, a film by gay professor, scholar and writer Dan Rybicky will be screened as a work in progress for the annual Kartemquin Films' Spring Showcase at Gene Siskel Film Center Tuesday, May 15, at 8 p.m. Rybicky will be present for audience discussion.

—Diana Ross, Live in Central Park was a night to remember. "It was one of the peak experiences of my career," says the former Supremes member. The diva superstar sings some of her best hits and gay favorites, "I'm Coming Out," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," as well as standards from her Supremes glory days such as "Baby Love" and "Stop in the Name of Love." The 1983 broadcast concert has never been available for individual consumption until now. On DVD May 15 at shoutfactorystore.com

—From the director of Is it Just Me?, JC Calciano, comes eCupid, a sweet dramedy about long-term gay couple Marshall and Gabe, split apart by a relationship phone app that becomes one half's obsession. Golden Globe-nominated actress Morgan Fairchild ( Dallas, Flamingo Road ) is the voice of the eCupid app, which you can download yourself on iTunes. The movie arrives on DVD May 15 at www.tlareleasing.com .

—Also new from TLA Releasing, This is What Love in Action Looks Like is a documentary that traces the true story of a teenage boy, Zach Stark, who blogged his way out of an ex-gay rehabilitation program that his parents sent him to after coming out. The controversial practices exposed in Stark's accounts inspired a nationwide protest to rescue him. It's on DVD May 8 at www.tlareleasing.com .


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