The Perfectly Family is based on a pretty simple premise. From the very beginning we learn that a devoutly Catholic woman is nominated for one of her church’s top awards. Promised the blessing of absolution if she wins, the dedicated churchgoer tries her best to present her family as “perfect” in the eyes of her peers, refusing to accept (let alone see) those closest to her for who they really are, lifestyles and all. This is hardly an earth-shattering situation. In fact it seems like a rather dated conflict in which to base a feature film. However, these situations do still exist, and just because it isn’t an original concept doesn’t mean it couldn’t still work given the right circumstances. Unfortunately, The Perfect Family has not been provided the right circumstances regardless of the impressive cast led by the incomparable Kathleen Turner.
The main fault lies with the film’s inexperienced first time director. I hate to do anything other than cheer for a new female voice in the male dominated world of moviemaking but The Perfect Family fails to live up to its potential, and to me that shortcoming is due to the director. With only a single short film under her belt Anne Renton certainly does an able job of helming a low budget independent. However, the charming young filmmaker falls far short of demonstrating the skills required to provide the right leadership necessary to make the most of a small budget. The compositions aren’t quite right, the editing is often a bit off, the performances feel more like rehearsals, and the whole rhythm of the film is terribly inconsistent. The result is an uneven film that feels like it should either have been left to the Lifetime Channel, or given a firmer hand to steer it down the road to indie fest success, rather than be released in major markets.
I suppose it wouldn’t matter so much if it weren’t for the considerable talent with which Renton had under her watch. Working against the script and some truly awkward moments in the production Turner (Romancing the Stone, Prizzi’s Honor) rises above the material as the matriarch, “Eileen”. Turner’s character has over the years turned a blind eye to her family rather than accept them for the imperfect people that they are. This is a role that could have easily been depicted as an over zealous bible thumper, but it’s Turner herself that makes any part of Eileen work. Her sheer presence lends a much-needed air of believability to a woman who knows who and what she is and likes it. You can feel her difficulty in understanding why anyone wouldn’t want to be the same way, including allowing the church to do one’s thinking, especially when it comes to complicated or uncomfortable issues.
With a stronger director The Perfect Family could have been a much more memorable film, but sadly it is the previously mentioned shortcomings that will inevitably cause it, and Turner’s performance to be seen by very few. Likewise, the rest of the performances by Emily Deschanel, Jason Ritter and Michael McGrady also suffer from the common mistakes made by an inexperienced filmmaker. They’re all good and very likable, but you just can’t help but feel as if you’re watching a rough cut rather than a polished film. No doubt, in time and with a few more films added to her resume, Renton will become a director worth watching. For now, however, I’d wait until her next film comes out before paying to see one.