Susan Granger’s review of “The Perfect Family” (Variance Films)
Whenever devout Eileen Cleary (Kathleen Turner) must face a personal problem, she dutifully turns to the teachings of her Church. “I don’t have to think – I’m Catholic,” she explains.
But when she learns that she’s a finalist for the parish’s “Roman Catholic Woman of the Year” in Chester, the small, New Jersey town in which she lives, Eileen’s simplified world becomes fraught with chaos. Obsessed with the promise that the coveted award carries with it a Promise of Absolution for all past sins, she’s absolutely determined to win over her sanctimonious, longtime rival, manipulative Agnes Dunn (Sharon Lawrence). But that’s not going to be easy since Eileen must invite visiting Irish Bishop Donnelly (Hansford Rowe) to her home to meet her family, supposedly a perfect model of Catholic morals and values.
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” Eileen reasons. “I need my family to behave the way they’re supposed to.”
But Eileen’s husband Frank (Michael McGrady), a good-natured fireman, is a recovering alcoholic. Her lesbian/lawyer daughter, Shannon (Emily Deschanel), has just announced that she’s been artificially inseminated and is pregnant and planning to marry her live-in partner, Angela (Angelique Cabral), whose gracious mother (Elizabeth Pena) is disarmingly welcoming to the Clearys. And at the same time, Eileen’s firefighter son, Frank Jr., (Jason Ritter) has abandoned his wife and two kids to pursue an affair with a Protestant manicurist (Kristen Dalton).
Sketchily and shallowly scripted by Claire V. Riley and Paul Goldberg and unevenly helmed by debuting director Anne Renton, it’s crackling good dramedy when Kathleen Turner is center-stage as the suburban matriarch battling for prim propriety. Casting out-of-the-closet actor Richard Chamberlain as Monsignor Murphy is obviously indicative of where the filmmakers’ sympathy lies insofar as the relevant clash between Catholic orthodoxy and gay rights.
FYI: There is no Promise of Absolution. There is only the Sacrament of Penance after a Roman Catholic confesses sins and receives absolution from a priest.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Perfect Family” is a sincerely sympathetic 7, as faith triumphs over religion.