I suppose I’m lucky. My family is pretty great, most of the time, and I’ve never really minded spending the holidays with them.
But I know plenty of families who are thoroughly annoying (and even kind of awful to each other), and for those people, I can only imagine settling in to watch a day of football on Thanksgiving is a relief. Of course, there are families where football is another source of discord, and if you’re going to watch a movie, why not watch one about a family more awful than your own? It might make everyone just grateful enough for their actual family to make it through the rest of the day.
With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for truly dysfunctional cinematic families.
My Man Godfrey (1936)
This movie’s as much about the excesses of the original One Percenters and the ravages of the Great Depression as it is about family and romance, but if you’re looking for a family of people who genuinely don’t get along, you can’t find a better example than the Bullocks. They’re abrasive, disconnected and more competitive than the family on Downton Abbey – until youngest daughter Irene hires a bum to be their new butler. Don’t let the black and white fool you: Carole Lombard and William Powell lead a cast as vibrant as any Technicolor spectacular.
Home for the Holidays (1995)
Cast aside – Holly Hunter, Anne Bancroft, Cynthia Stevenson, Claire Danes, Geraldine Chaplin, Amy Yasbeck and Robert Downey Jr. – the family in this movie is like any other family, but brought into sharp focus, warts and all. It’s as painful as it is funny, and may even provide some new coping mechanisms if your family is too much to bear.
The Family Stone (2005)
It was a toss up whether this Diane Keaton-helmed flick or Because I Said So would make the list, but this one’s actually holiday themed, so it won. (Besides, there’s always Valentine’s Day and/or Mother’s Day!) It’s difficult to put my finger on why this family is so depressing, but if you don’t finish the movie hating them just a teeny, tiny bit, you may be a robot.
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Yes, it’s a twist on Pride & Prejudice. Yes, Helen Fielding has done some horrible things. Yes, Renee Zellweger can balloon up and down for roles. But forget Mad About the Boy and that squinty thing she does, and consider for a moment the fact that Bridget’s mother leaves her father for a man who is orange because her father allegedly didn’t know what the clitoris was.
Cinderella (2000) / Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (2002)
Only two years apart, these were both TV movies that were a twist on the story of Cinderella. The first stars Kathleen Turner as a twisted and manipulative stepmother who’s raised daughters who are by turns ditzy and violently malevolent. The second casts Stockard Channing in the stepmother role, as a woman who’s never quite accepted the burden of having two children for whom she must provide.
Watch Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister: YouTube
Rose Red (2002)
Start with a house mired in infidelity and betrayal, add psychics with trust issues, marinate for the length of a ponderous multi-part miniseries, and you get this weird and creepy Stephen King story. (If you can make it through to the end in one sitting, you have more patience than me.)
The War of the Roses (1989)
And, if you survive the day with family but you need to settle in with your best friend, Vodka, to recover, queue up this classic story of the Worst Divorce Ever. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, you’ll feel bad for laughing, and you’ll realize that being asked uncomfortable personal questions by nosy older family members isn’t the worst thing that could happen.