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CULTURE IN SLIPPERS: The top five family movies

The coronavirus plight has confined many people to their homes. Schools have closed, entertainment, cultural and sporting events got cancelled, and many people have been forced to work remotely... To make this time of imposed isolation a little more pleasurable and show that culture is always within your reach, we have enlisted the help of our authors to offer suggestions on how to bring culture into your leisure time. First up, we are going to hear from Patryk Szczechowiak with his cinematic recommendations.

"The Royal Tenenbaums", photograph courtesy of film distributor
"The Royal Tenenbaums", photograph courtesy of film distributor

According to sociology, the family is the "fundamental social unit". While this basic definition may satisfy social science, I consider the family to be a whole lot more. In the simplest of terms, the family is all about emotions, the good ones and the bad. And it is precisely emotions that run high at present as we spend more time together. Which is why I have selected the following five motion pictures that portray the whole wide spectrum of life in the family. The films are funny, sad and bizarre... Between them, they show everything that a good family should have.

The Royal Tenenbaums  (2001)

Anyone who is even remotely familiar with the work of Wes Anderson knows fully well this could not be a "normal" movie. Anderson is one of those artists who have developed a unique style of their own that permeates all of their work. This time around, the outstanding director introduces us to a truly extraordinary family. It is headed by Royal Tenenbaum (played by the invariably magnificent Gene Hackman, who - by the way - has been awarded the Golden Globe for the role). Having abandoned his family many years earlier, Royal Tenenbaum returns to re-join it, claiming to be terminally ill. This is his chance to reunite with his children and presumably come to terms with death. As you'd expect from an Anderson movie, things get both dramatic and funny. The Royal Tenenbaumsis a story of love, personal drama and solitude, delivered in fantastic style. I guarantee that your face will be smiling more than it is sad during the screening.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

An absolute classic of the genre, Little Miss Sunshine just had to make my list. A winner of two (highly deserved) Oscars, one of which was for screenplay, it tells the story of the Hoovers, a seemingly ordinary family which turns out to be nothing but. Its youngest member Olive aspires to become a beauty queen disregarding her plumpness. Richard, the father, has a penchant for sharing his life advice with others although he struggles to fix his own problems. The son Dwayne has taken a vow of silence until he becomes a fighter pilot. On top of this, an uncle moves in with the family after a failed suicide attempt. Finally, there is grandpa, expelled from a retirement home for the use of heroine. This all-American family sets out on a trip to the "Little Miss Sunshine" beauty pageant in their old van. Doesn't that sound like buckets of fun? An ingenious story about life, family and prevailing against all odds. I watch it at least once a year.

City Island (2009)

I distinctly remember when I first watched this picture at the Transatlantic Festival in Poznań during a heavy downpour. The organisers quickly moved the event under a roof, for which I was grateful as it gave me a chance to see a piece of really good cinema. The movie is further proof of how noteworthy independent US productions can be. There is also a Polish touch as the music is made by Jan A. P. Kaczmarek. Vincent Rizzo (it is great to see Andy Garcia in a good role after all these years) is a prison guard taking acting lessons in secret from his close ones. As it soon becomes clear, his is just one of the family's many secrets. All of them get disclosed because of a man that Vincent invites into their home. Owing to guest's presence, the long-held secrets finally come to light. What ensues is an excellent comedy of manners (the audition scene with Andy Garcia is simply superb). My biggest surprise was the Bronx which, up until then, I considered to be a barren urban wasteland populated by gangsters. After seeing City Island, I felt I could move there myself.

August: Osage County  (2013)

The theme of a family reunion is always a good start for a movie. Add to it a screenplay based on a Pulitzer-winning theatre play and a star-studded ensemble cast and the movie just can't go wrong. Three sisters (Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, and Julianne Nicholson) find out that their father has disappeared. They decide to return home to support their ill mother (Meryl Streep). Expectedly, it doesn't take long for long-concealed grudges, insinuations and secrets to come to a head. As the plot thickens, all we wait for is for the characters to explode. Real drama ensues, interrupted with occasional humour. The biggest strength of the movie is its cast. Besides the above-mentioned actors, you will see everyone's favourites: Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch. Luckily, such density of talent does no harm to the way the story is told. The director does an excellent job of leading the actors and toning them down to a great overall effect.

This Is Where I Leave You  (2014)

Here is another family reunion under a single roof after a long time apart. This time the reason for getting together is the passing of the father. Unfortunately for the characters, they are forced to spend a whole week together as the dying wish of the departed was to have the family sit the shiva (the Jewish mourning ritual). Thus, they end up cooped up under one roof for seven days with nothing to do. Sound familiar? Not being very religious, they approach the ritual with reluctance. No matter what they do though, they cannot escape talking. This compels them to work through their present and past problems. Importantly, the actors playing the siblings come across as very genuine. You can't help feeling they are really related. On top of this, Jane Fonda gracefully fills the role of the mother. I'm well aware of how biased I am personally about this movie as, ever since the 30 Rock series, I have watched and celebrated every production featuring Tina Fey. Still, if you have a spare moment, I very much recommend this one - watch it and you will not regret it.

Recommendations from Patryk Szczechowiak

translation: Krzysztof Kotkowski

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