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The Family Tree

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The Family Tree
By Wilson Morales

When it comes to independent comedy films involving an ensemble of well known actors, what matters is how well are the jokes timed and how each of the scenes are executed. One would expect that each actor, no matter how big or small the role is, make their mark in that scene. When the comedy happens to be the typical dysfunctional family film where the parents and kids are each going through awkward stages in their lives, one still wants their storylines to be cohesive in the end.

Such is not the case with ‘The Family Tree,’ which features a cast that includes Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Max Thieriot, Britt Robertson, Chi McBride, Keith Carradine, Madeline Zima, Shad “Bow Wow” Moss, Christina Hendricks, Gabrielle Anwar, Evan Handler, Evan Ross and Jane Seymour.

Here’s a film that consists of a hodgepodge of blah. Too many subplots are crammed into this dramedy that leaves little for emotion or laughter.

Dermot Mulroney plays Jack Burnett, a businessman and loving but clueless husband to his cheating, domineering wife Bunnie (played by Davis). They live in a suburban house with twins Kelly (Brittany Robertson) and Eric (Max Thieriot), who couldn’t be more opposite than oil and water. While Eric carries the Bible (and a gun) with him, Kelly flaunts her sexuality that causes her mom, of all people, to call her names and assume the worst.

As dad and the kids leave the house in the morning for work and school, Bunnie is left alone to see a masked robber break in and proceed to attack her. It turns out to be a ruse to hide her affair with her neighbor Simon, a tall black man (played by McBride) and friend of the family. While having sex in the bathroom, Bunnie has an accident that leaves her with a case of amnesia. With the entire family at the hospital, not only does Jack get a second chance to connect with his wife, who had become distant to him, but Simon stops by to check on Bunnie and see how much she remembers.

Directed by Vivi Friedman and in between the dramedy unfolding in the Burnett household, many characters come in and out of scenes that leave the film overloaded with unnecessary plots. Audience members will be exiting theaters with their heads scratching.

While Thieriot and John Patrick Amedori play typical misunderstood teenage kids with some effecting degree, most of the other performances are totally wasted from Mulroney, Davis, McBride, and even cameos by Seymour and Rachel Leigh Cook.

For Christina Hendricks, who’s dazzles the screen on AMC’s award-winning series Mad Men to Burn Notice’s Gabrielle Anwar, it’s unfortunate that they are relegated to playing sexpots without any show of range to their acting. Did Hendricks have to play a secretary again? Not only that, but when McBride, a veteran of TV and films, is reduced to saying words like, “Stop, Hammertime!” during his fake rape scene, you just know everyone’s in this film is basically in it for a check, however small it may be.

If this were a sitcom TV series, screenwriter Mark Lisson would have time to stretch out the stories and characters; but instead of getting a witty film on a fractured family that finds a way back to normality (“American Beauty,” “The Family Stone,” or “Crazy, Stupid, Love”), we get a film that’s dull, unfunny, and convoluted with stories.


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