In the preliminary telecasts leading up to last month’s Oscar broadcast, host Kristin Chenoweth was so bubbly, I thought her fizz might spill out from the TV, adding to the many issues created by our recently departed and much loved dog who — in his old age — hadn’t always been kind to the carpeting in the TV room.
R for some sexual content and brief drug use
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
Considering Chenoweth’s unregulated supply of pre-Oscar effervescence, I was delighted to see that in the overly screwy new comedy Family Weekend, Chenoweth plays against type — way against type.
Chenoweth portrays Samantha Smith-Dungy, a harried, workaholic mother of four who — along with her artist husband (Matthew Modine) — is taken hostage by her 16-year-old daughter (Olesya Rulin).
Rulin’s Emily is upset because, as a champion high-school jump-roper, she has had to perform without benefit of family support. Her relatives either are too busy or too distracted to attend her competitions.
Emily’s older brother (Eddie Hassell) occupies himself by pretending to be gay, a strategy he hopes will win his father’s attention. What artist father wouldn’t appreciate a son’s “gay” sensitivity? Or so the young man thinks.
Younger brother (Robbie Tucker) doesn’t seem to be particularly busy, but he’s stuck with the task of remembering everything that everyone else in the family keeps forgetting. As for Emily’s sister (Joey King), she often can be found prancing about the house pretending to be the kiddie prostitute Jodie Foster played in Taxi Driver.
A comedy about a subject as fraught as hostage-taking needs a lot of laughs to make itself palatable. Unfortunately, laughs are not found in abundance in director Benjamin Epps’s treatment of a screenplay by Matt K. Turner.
Moreover, the story is not without its annoyances. Rulin’s Emily, for example, can be hard to take. She’s an aggressively organized young lady who wants her family to return to the normalcy it reflected before Dad disappeared into his room to paint and smoke dope, before Mom had to work constantly to maintain life in what appears to be an exceptionally nice home, and before her siblings all veered out of control, victims of lack of attention or of lax progressive parenting.
Too much of the time, Family Weekend plays like the pilot for a failed sitcom, but it does offer an alternative view of Chenoweth, who in this outing, seethes more than she bubbles. I’d call that progress.