N.Y. Scene April 2011: “Times Two” book launch & Antigone Rising show, Tribeca Film Festival and Sightings Out on the Town

World premiere of The Perfect Family – April 24, 2011 – Tribeca Film Festival

Official press still by Oana Marian

The Perfect Family, a dramedy about a rigid church lady coming to terms with her less than holy family, made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival to a highly receptive audience. Boasting an impressive cast including Kathleen Turner and Emily Deschanel, The Perfect Family is out filmmaker Anne Renton’s feature length directorial debut. You may remember her short film “Love is Love,” featuring Jane Lynch and Margaret Cho

Eileen Cleary (Kathleen Turner) has devoted her life to the Church. She serves on every church committee, delivers food to the disabled, acts as an altar woman, and goes to confession every day. Because of her dedication to the Church, her priest, Monsignor Murphy (Richard Chamberlain) has nominated her for the title of “Catholic Woman of the Year.” When she learns that the title comes bundled with the gift of absolution from all past sins and that her arch nemesis Agnes Dunn (Sharon Lawrence) has also been nominated, Mrs. Cleary becomes determined that nothing will stand in her way in her quest for the prize.

Not even her family.

As part of the selection process, nominees must invite the Archbishop to their homes to present their “perfect” Catholic families, but Mrs. Cleary’s family falls short of the ideal. Husband Frank (Michael McGrady) is a recovering alcoholic. This could pose a small problem. Son Frank Jr. (Jason Ritter) has recently ditched his wife and two kids and is having an affair with a manicurist (Kristen Dalton). This is a bigger problem. Finally, daughter Shannon (Emily Deschanel) is pregnant and about to marry her girlfriend Angela (Angelique Cabral). This is the biggest problem of all. 

And so she does what any devout Catholic in her position would do. She asks her family to deceive the Archbishop by playing their expected roles as members of the archetypal “perfect” Catholic family until the awards ceremony. This means, among other things, that Shannon must be nowhere to be seen, and during the visit, the family fumbles around, fabricating a story about Shannon’s purported boyfriend. Eventually, Mrs. Cleary’s demands become more unbearable over time and threaten to tear the family apart.

Official press still by Oana Marian

Turner shines as the obsessive and closed-minded matriarch. While the role could have become a caricature if given to a less capable actor, Turner’s portrayal of Mrs. Cleary is three-dimensional and sympathetic and tinged with just the right amount of humor. At one point, in an argument with her daughter about same sex adoption, she blurts out the most memorable line in the film, “I don’t have to think! I’m Catholic!” Another scene where otherwise appalling behavior is tempered with comedic relief is during Shannon and Angela’s wedding, where Mrs. Cleary suffers an anxiety attack upon seeing the two kiss and flees the ceremony, only to have an accident that ruins her nice wedding-appropriate apparel, and she is forced to wear a tracksuit during the reception.

A question and answer session followed the premiere. 

Among one of the spectators in the audience was Ebony Haith, an out contestant of America’s Next Top Model Cycle 1. “I just want to say that this was much more than just a movie to me,” she told the cast and creators. Haith mentioned that her family was not supportive when she first came out, and that that she wished she could have given a copy of the film to every member of her family. 

Kathleen Turner was in the house, and she answered questions directed at her with her trademark sass. On one occasion, a man attempted to question director Anne Renton about her personal belief in God, and Turner grabbed the microphone and said, “I’ll answer that. None of your f—king business!” The auditorium erupted with applause.

All in all, the film received a positive reception at the premiere, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more of The Perfect Family in the future.

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