Film Review: The Perfect Family

This often amusing pro-gay comedy delivers a dysfunctional family and religious orthodoxy in extremis with a bright cast headed by a droll Kathleen Turner. Some savage digs at the Catholic Church won&#8217;t amuse everyone, but maybe a little of the <i

Whether Anne Renton’s directorial debut falls into film’s gay ghetto will be interesting to follow, as The Perfect Family is a fun but often familiar ride into what first looks like typical Americana but is pretty messed up upon closer inspection. (Think more mellow John Waters.)

A “perfect family” here? Of course not, at least not according to religious-right and conservative American thinking that goes back forever. Rather, The Perfect Family’s brood is headed by devout, gung-ho Catholic matriarch Eileen (Kathleen Turner), who is determined to win the “Catholic Woman of the Year” title that her local parish is bestowing and that she has coveted for so many years. Her rival for the title is the equally eager-beaver Agnes Dunn (Sharon Lawrence). Clueless Eileen would probably bag it were it not for a few big family surprises she must confront: Her daughter Shannon (Emily Deschanel) is a lesbian who is about to marry her lover and give birth; her randy son Frank, Jr. (Jason Ritter) has ditched his wife and taken up with a manicurist; and hubby Frank (Michael McGrady) is a struggling alcoholic who walks out on her.

This is not the perfect picture to present to the visiting archbishop who will be integral to the selection of the honoree. As Eileen’s travails unfold, she remains close to Monsignor Murphy (Richard Chamberlain), a diehard Catholic who may or may not ultimately become an ally.
Eileen chills a bit after she meets Shannon’s lover Angela (Angelique Cabral) and her wonderful parents (Elizabeth Peña and Gregory Zaragoza). And she becomes more compassionate after real scares like Shannon’s near-miscarriage. Fortunately, The Perfect Family doesn’t really sell out at the end but makes a good case for people doing a lot more thinking about their dumb prejudices. Which does not mean that the film won’t annoy devout Catholic traditionalists mired in the old thinking.