“The Perfect Family” might have been perfectly edgy and controversial — ten years ago. The material — a devout Catholic wife and mother who is so active in her parrish that she’s up for “Catholic Woman of the Year” — if only she can keep the monsignor, archbishop, pope and the rest from knowing her gay daughter just got married, her married son is carrying on an affair and her husband used to drink and cheat — had the makings of something madcap, broad and manic, with a hint of heart.
But this Kathleen Turner vehicle is a stiff, a picture with so little urgency that it drags on like a sermon without end, with all the flavor of a communion wafer.
Eileen Cleary goes to confession more often than most, crosses herself by reflex at every opportunity and hurls herself into every church activity she can get her hands on. Prepping and delivering meals to the elderly? She’s on it.
She’s rigid and a trifle humorless, trying to live her life according to church teachings, using church guidance to direct her every decision.
“What do YOU think?”
“I don’t have to think. I’m a Catholic!”
Her priest (Richard Chamberlain, Irish-accented, still playing priests decades after “The Thorn Birds”) wants her rewarded for her piety and efforts. She should be Catholic Woman of the Year in their parrish, which has the promise of absolution from a bishop from Dublin as a bonus. All her sins will be washed away.
But it isn’t Eileen’s sins that she’s worried about.
That means firefighter son Frank Jr. (Jason Ritter of TV’s “The Event”) should stop carrying on with a manicurist and stay with his wife and son. That means daughter Shannon (Emily Deschanel of TV’s “Bones”) should get around to meeting a nice man and settling down.
Only Shannon is gay. She’s been with Angela (Angelique Cabral) for years and they’re about to get married. Angela’s Catholic mom (Elizabeth Pena) is fine with it. Now. But we get the feeling Eileen never will be.
There’s a rival for Woman of the Year, the snooty, superficial and gay-bashing Agnes Dunn. What would she do with all this gossip about Eileen’s family?
This business of covering up her family’s transgressions could have been amusing had Turner played this woman as more frantic. Eileen and her husband have other secrets which would tend to add urgency to her need for absolution.
But the script is tin-eared and full of Catholic cliches and first-tme feature director Anne Renton can’t crank up the tempo to save her lie.
Turner, her lips curled into a nearly permanent scowl, never cranks up the intensity or picks up the pace enough to get across Eileen’s desperation. Her desperation is what is supposed to be funny here.
It’s all well and good to want to deliver a sermon on tolerance, on the idea that some Catholic dogma is out of date and out of touch with the real world. But that sermon wouldn’t play like a sermon if they’d made this farce more farcical.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material
Cast: Kathleen Turner, Emily Deschanel, Jason Ritter, Richard Chamberlain
Credits: Directed by Anne Renton, written by Paula Goldberg and Claire V. Riley .
Running time: 1:24