Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: All in the Family Edition - Stepfamilies


My parents got divorced when I was five years old. It sucked. My Dad got remarried very soon after, so my sister and I inherited a stepbrother and stepsister. My Mom, too, soon after began relationships with men who weren't my father. Weird stuff. When my Mom finally married for the second time, it was to a complete nutcase alcoholic, who, though never abusive, certainly gave me the creeps. It didn't last long. Good riddance.

It's hard on a kid growing up like that. Most of my best friends' parents were still married. Some still are today. I am hard-pressed to think of movies that suit my experience with stepfamilies. There just aren't very many. In fact, I've only seen one movie that got it totally right. You'll see that here. The other two picks are just movies with the prefix "step" in their titles that just happened to work for me in very unexpected ways.

This week on Wandering through the Shelves' Thursday Picks, it's an All in the Family Edition: Stepfamilies.


Here are my picks:

Stepmom 
Dir. Chris Columbus, 1998


The feeling of getting a new stepmom, for me, was unlike anything to be found in this film. My new stepmom was not Julia Roberts. My family wasn't wealthy. I was older than the son character, Ben (Liam Aiken) and not a girl like Anna Harrison (Jena Malone). The thing that Chris Columbus' film does so well, though, is it evokes a familiar feeling. The feeling of being a kid forced to deal with things outside your control. As kids, we sort of feel the need to audition new people entering our lives, especially stepparents. The way Jackie (Susan Sarandon), the biological mother in this situation makes her kids the middle man is something so true to life. The way Isabel (Julia Roberts) tries at being cool, then tries at being tough, ultimately failing and then, alas succeeding, is likewise true. I was 14 when Stepmom came out. I was forced to go see it with my Mom and sister. My Dad had since divorced my stepmom. My Mom was just about to marry an asshole. And this movie just worked. I cried. I felt it.

Step Brothers
Dir. Adam McKay, 2008


Now, I have had two stepbrothers in my life. Neither are that still. I bonded with neither of them the way that Brennan Huff (Will Ferrell) and Dale Doback (John C. Reilly) do in Adam McKay's Step Brothers. Like his previous films with Will Ferrell (Anchorman and Talladega Nights), this is a film that just plain didn't work for me the first time. For all three of these films, it took a second watch. They are all three favorites now. The jokes have sit with you. You have to familiarize yourself with them, allow them to become quotable. And they so are. My wife still comments on how hard I laughed at this film when we watched it together (my second viewing). I still to this day laugh when I think about this one late scene in the film involving Will Ferrell as a lumberjack. "The fuckin' Catalina wine mixer..." I love this movie. And I love the journey Brennan and Dale make in becoming brothers. Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins are great as the parents as well. Really great.

Boyhood
Dir. Richard Linklater, 2014


I'm pretty much with the majority on Richard Linklater's Boyhood. I won't put it on some pedestal with the greatest cinematic achievements of all-time or anything, but it's a solid emotional ride, one I likened to a roller coaster in my original review. A pretty obvious metaphor I suppose, but who cares!? Here's the truth of this film: No movie I have ever seen tapped in so purely to the feelings of being a young boy, missing your Dad, and seeing your mother marry a total and complete asshole. Mom (Patricia Arquette) marries two of them, one of them actually an abusive dirtbag drunk. I literally felt every bit of these scenes in this movie. I lived them in a way. This is the best this movie has to offer. It is just so real in the sense of recreating universal truths about parents and children and stepparents and how we all grow and change over the years. To watch the same actors age, specifically the Mom and Dad (Ethan Hawke) characters, is, to me, every bit as effective as everyone says. I pretty much hated the last half our of this movie, mostly because Mason (Ellar Coltrane) grew into a pretentious, artsy, hipster douche. But the first two hours...greatness!

16 comments:

  1. Great picks! Stepmom also made me cry, and the family life in Boyhood sucks. I felt bad for the stepkids when Patricia Arquette and her family had to leave them behind. I have yet to finish watching Step Brothers ad I've only caught the beginning and the end.

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    1. Step Brothers is so hilarious. But you have to let it work on you a bit.

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  2. That step dad part of Boyhood was the only interesting part for me. Then they never mention it or their former step siblings again despite being concerned about them after they leave. It annoyed me to no end. Step mom is such a classic and I LOVE Step Brothers. Hands down one of my favorite comedies.

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    1. I was interested in much more than that in Boyhood. I am one that praised it. Not crazily like many, but I really found a lot of truth and power in it. I connected with it. Step Brothers is the shit!

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  3. Good choices for the theme but I'm not a fan of two of them. I thought Stepmom was terribly sappy despite being a big Susan Sarandon fan. Sorry to hear you had experiences similar to those in Boyhood, I could see how that could make you connect to the film in certain ways. I hated it utterly, finding it a dull slog with terribly indifferent acting. Haven't seen Step Brothers. I've been torn about watching since I'm a John C. Reilly fan but find Will Ferrell rather odious, your quick overview makes it sound okay though.

    I went with two lightweight breezy comedies and a tale of when family blending doesn't go so smoothly:

    The Brady Bunch Movie (1995)-Taking the quintessential 70's blended sitcom family and transporting them to the 90's but keeping them firmly locked in their time is a perfect way of updating the material and this is a goofy and fun picture.

    With Six You Get Eggroll (1968)-Widow Doris Day who has three young sons and widower Brian Keith a teenage daughter, played by a very young Barbara Hershey, fall for each other and decide to marry but run into problems when the kids resist making any concessions. Light, pleasant farce was Doris’s feature film swan song.

    Tomorrow, the World! (1944)-A young German boy who has been recently orphaned comes to America to live with his spinster aunt (Agnes Moorehead), widowed uncle (Fredric March), the uncle’s teenage daughter and his future wife (Betty Field). Problems arise when it turns out he is a Hitler youth thoroughly indoctrinated in Nazi propaganda. While the family tries to make a home for him and basically deprogram him he resists and goes out of his way to be cruel to his uncle's fiancée, a Jewess, and does everything possible to tear the family apart. The film can be somewhat pat at times but it does try and tackle a complex subject.

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    1. Stepmom is incredibly sappy and not really that good a movie, but I just remember connecting to it, as a kid of divorce. Now, I can't claim that my experience with stepfathers was as extreme as the first guy. He was just straight up shit. But the other guy she marries, the younger guy. That situation was just like a guy my Mom married when I was 14. Just a creepy asshole. Step Brothers is hilarious. Watch it.

      The Brady Bunch Movie is so great! I haven't seen it in years. Such a cool idea. Your other picks sound interesting as well. Thanks for sharing, Joel!

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  4. Sorry to hear about your childhood experiences, and if your stepdad was anything like that guy in Boyhood then I'm really sorry. He was gross.

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    1. Well, luckily, my experience wasn't anywhere near the gross asshole in Boyhood, but the second guy she marries, the younger guy, that was exactly my experience. This movie was so effective for me. I know you don't care for it, but I just totally connected to it on all levels. I hated the last half hour though. Ugh! Spare me.

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  5. My parents didn't divorce until after I had graduated from college, but even then it was tough. I feel for ya, man.

    Co-sign with everything you said about Boyhood: Not one of the all-time greats, but it was a compelling watch and the way it observes families in this day and age is really something. Haven't seen the other two and have never had the desire. I've actually found most of Will Ferrell's movies (his most popular ones, anyway) to be one-joke affairs at best, so unless I laugh REALLY hard during the trailers, I don't bother. Step Brothers made me groan. I did think Anchorman had its moments, though.

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    1. Step Brothers worked so well for me, but it took two watches. Same with Anchorman. Both are now favorite comedies. Glad you don't hate Boyhood. It's good. Not great.

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  6. Step Brothers!!! Yay!!! Haven't seen Stepmom. I'll have to check ot out. I'll just pretend you didn't mention that other movie.

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    1. Haha! Definitely. Stepmom is really not that great. It just hit me at the right time. I so personally connected to Boyhood, it's ridiculous. I'm guessing you didn't?

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  7. My parents stayed together until my dad passed away. My mom never remarried ("Why? I have darned enough socks in my life time"-she did love my dad very much btw:)) I don't know the feelings involved with what you experienced so i look at these in a different light. Step Mom is OK but it is a typical tear jerker movie. I have not seen the Will Ferrell comedy but I like stupid comedy so i can see liking this. I can't stand Boyhood:) Poor Drew knows all about this but i found it long, boring and the main kid annoying

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    1. As for Boyhood, the main kid was only annoying to me when he became a teenager; therefore, the end of the movie just dragged and dragged. Agreed there. But what came before was really wonderful, and I connected to it more personally than just about any movie I've seen on the subject of divorce and parents and stepparents. See Step Brothers. Yes. It's stupid, silly fun. Stepmom is a crap movie, really. But it just hit me at the right time. You're lucky to have had your parents stay together for the long haul, though my parents were just never meant to.

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  8. I seem to be one of the few people in the universe that HATED Stepbrothers. I really liked Stepmom, though.

    It sounds like you had a complicated childhood. I'm sorry. Childhood is so difficult, in so many ways -- kids feel they have no control over the directions of their own lives. :-/

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    1. Step Brothers can easily be hated. It's really stupid. It just really landed for me.

      I did have a bit of a complicated childhood. That's why Boyhood worked for me. I connected to it. So true. Thanks.

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