12 Messed-Up Movie Families

Putting the 'fun' in dysfunction...

Buffalo 66 (1998)

The Family: The Browns

The Issues: Insecurity, paranoia, fear of abandonment...Billy Brown (Gallo, duke of dysfunction) is pretty much a walking advert for duff parenting, and it’s not hard to see why - when you can blag your way through a five-year jail stretch without your folks twigging on, something’s clearly slightly rotten on the home front.

In Billy’s case, it’s a mother obsessed with American football to a point slightly north of unhealthy, and a meathead father hell-bent on alternately belittling and ignoring his angry but still-intimidated offspring.

Would Therapy Help? Lashings of regressive hypnotherapy would probably have an impact in the end, but talk about opening a can of worms.

The childhood puppy, the chocolate allergy, the intimacy problems...an average psychiatrist’s couch would probably need to be reupholstered at least twice before Brown was anything like fixed.

Arizona Dream (1993)

The Family: Axel/Paul/Uncle Leo

The Issues: A more fundamental form of disfunction gnaws at the heart of this familial ambivalence triangle than elsewhere on this list.

At the end of the day, the three blood-tied male protagonists of Emir Kusturica's oddball escapism drama simply don't give two shits about each other, and never really will - no matter how endearingly crap Paul's (Vincent Gallo - what is it about Gallo and messed-up families?) talent show recreation of the North By Northwest crop-dusting scene is, or how many gleaming Cadillacs Uncle Leo (Jerry Lewis) coaxes Axel (Johnny Depp) into selling.

Will Therapy Help? There's definitely a chance of building a few bridges here and there, as we see from the green shoots of renewal after Uncle Leo shuffles off to that gleaming Cadillac dealership in the sky.

Ultimately though, what both Axel and Paul really wanted all along was to be somewhere else, doing something else; long-term healing in cases like theirs must be based on actions rather than words.

The Godfather (1972)

The Family: The Corleones

The Issues: Mostly to do with their approach to conflict reolution, it has to be said. Most brothers, when faced with a seemingly unspannable rift growing between them, will do the honourable thing and give each other a series of almighty dead-legs before agreeing to settle it over an epic table football battle. Or something.

The Corleones are a little less forgiving - particularly in Part II , when Michael has his bro Fredo whacked in a fishing boat while watching impassively from the shore. Then again, at least Mike gives ol' Fred a kiss first...it might be the kiss of death, but it's still probably beyond the emotional boundaries of most rival male siblings after a scrap.

Would Therapy Help? Probably, but who the hell would take the job as therapist to the Corleones? HR would be interviewing for replacements while you were still sharpening your pencils and trying to figure out the photocopier - and they almost certainly wouldn't bother offering a pension plan.

American Beauty (1999)

The Family: The Burnhams

The Issues: Lester (Kevin Spacey) is the apparent cause of this family’s strife, gripped as clammily as he is by an all-too-apparent midlife crisis that involves lusting after teenage cheerleaders while smoking weed in his garage weights room.

However, so much resentment and dissatisfaction lurks beneath the surface in this mouldering vision of suburbia, it turns out that Lester is pretty much the only member of the household (also boasting a waspish cheating spouse and a sullen daughter riddled with self-esteem issues) being completely - if somewhat tragically - honest.

Would Therapy Help? Yes and no. On one level, this family’s predicament is merely an overblown caricature of a rather typical middle class household on the brink of collapse due to lack of communication. As such, many of the problems they’re each struggling through alone appear eminently fixable.

On the other hand, since none of the family actually like themselves or their situation enough to make a salvage operation worthwhile, there’s very limited point in trying; all they could hope to achieve was to delay Lester’s dramatic exit somewhat, but we sense little chance of a happier long-term outcome for this unit in its current incarnation.

Savage Grace (2007)

The Family: The Baekelands

The Issues: Drunken, attention-seeking socialite and former would-be actress struggles with the fact that her already-too-close-for-comfort son is gay, and so sets out to lure him back to the ladyflesh in the most direct and dysfunctional manner possible.

Understandably, this messes said son up quite badly. And, with a sickening inevitability, he eventually messes her up quite badly - well, to death, actually - in return.

Would Therapy Help? The difficulty here seems to be deciding which form of therapy to shove these nutcases into first. Sex counsellor, marriage guidance counsellor, career counsellor...which one would you actually turn to in a misguided maelstrom of this magnitude?

Either way, you'd be unlikely to change a great deal; the son of the real-life family on which the story is based was released from Broadmoor some eight years after the killing, only to seriously injure his gran in a similar knife attack almost immediately.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

The Family: The Tenenbaums

The Issues: Ah, child prodigies - it never seems to end well, does it? Especially not with three absurdly gifted children and a noncommittal, largely absent father figure crammed under the same roof.

And even less so when the mother is also knocking boots with a drug-addled neighbour, one of the sons openly yearns for his adopted sister, and the father is feigning terminal cancer in a desperate bid to get back in everyone’s good books. Superbly messy, even by Anderson’s sky-scraping standards.

Would Therapy Help? Tricky to see how one therapist could be expected to tackle this family’s bulging litany of botherations in a single working lifetime, but a large, dedicated team of relationship counsellors working in shifts around the clock might eventually make a few inroads.

We especially like to imagine the Tenenbaums hooked up to the electrodes from Dr Monroe’s Family Therapy Center in early Simpsons episode 'There's No Disgrace Like Home'.

Forbidden Zone (1982)

The Family: The Hercules’

The Issues: When the fact that you’ve got a door to the Sixth Dimension located in your cellar isn’t the weirdest thing about your home life, it’s a good indicator that your family is messier than Jackson Pollock’s dungarees.

Sure enough, this unutterably dysfunctional family boasts a randomly French sister, a scout uniform-wearing brother who’s clearly about 70, and a (much younger) bearded ‘gramps’ who used to be a Jewish wrestler called Killer Rosenblatt but who is now permanently tied up to stop him eating everyone.

And that's not to mention the messed-up nuclear arrangements on the other side of the door - midgets, topless queens and frog-headed servants? There goes the neighbourhood...

Would Therapy Help? Well, conventional methods certainly don’t seem to offer much hope for this mass freakshow. In fact, arguably the only person who could sort this lot out might be Miss Feldman, the neighbourhood's gender-bending schoolma’am, and her faithful (and frequently deployed) classroom uzi.

Kids these days don’t know they’re born, do they?

Society (1992)

The Family: The Whitneys

The Issue: With the exception of rat-sniffing son Bill, the whole family are actually body-morphing alien horrorbeasts who regularly engage in nauseatingly orgiastic bouts of "shunting".

As if we needed to tell you, "shunting" basically involves the entire household - and several members of neighbouring alien nests - stripping naked and mashing their sweaty, shape-shifting torsos into one rubbery mass as they fuse the two seemingly quite disparate practices of consuming poor people's "nutrients" and humping each other senseless.

And you thought your parents were embarrassing.

Would Therapy Help? It's a moot point - surgery is the most pressing need here. And frankly, of all the dodgy reasons to wind up in A&E on a Friday night, having to get your own offspring's kneecaps removed from your buttcrack is probably one of the least endearing. And most illegal.

The Shining (1980)

The Family: The Torrances

The Issues: As we’ve learned by the end of the film, the father is a gibbering filicidal maniac, his son is a telepathic indoor cycling enthusiast who suffers nightmarish hallucinations on an almost hourly basis, and the mother is a pallid screechy emotional wreck with little ability to intervene as her cosy familial bubble bursts gorily in her face.

Oh, sure, everyone blames the hotel...but c’mon, we’ve all suffered less-than-five-star service at one time or other, and yet very few of us have ever put a fire axe through the chef.

Would Therapy Help? Sadly, it’d be about as much use as a candyfloss kayak. The best policy here is probably to whisk mum away on some sort of witness relocation programme.

Meanwhile, let's ensnare the kid in a strip-lit underground research bunker somewhere (sorry, but he freaks us right out), and strap dad’s frozen cadaver to the nose of a rocket aimed directly at the sun.

Although to be honest, even the thought of him temporarily thawing out millions of miles above the earth still gives us the skids...

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The Family: Old man/Leatherface/Grandpa/ Chop Top

The Issues: Um...well...actually, if this list is taken to be one of dysfunctional families in the strictest sense, then the murderous inbred cannibal stars of Tobe Hooper's horror opus probably shouldn't be here - they're not exactly The Joneses, but they do sort of function as a unit, up to a point.

And it was either them or their distant relatives the Firefly family.

Mind you, that wouldn't get them very far in court, we fear. "Yes m'lud, my client realises that power-tooling people's faces off is generally viewed as unacceptable, but asks that the jury acknowledge his reasonably stable relationship with his mute brother, who he only occasionally beats with sticks at moments of high slaughter-induced excitement."

Would Therapy Help? Again, you'd have to be going some to find a therapist willing to take this case on.

Possibly some desperate work experience kid might agree to it, but even so, they'd be unlikely to get very far - we're not sure how much insight could be gleaned from Leatherface's whinnies, giggles, shrieks and grunts, even if he genuinely was attempting to open up about his mother. Who he probably ate.

Pink Flamingos (1972)

The Family: Divine/Edie/Crackers/Cotton

The Issues: When, like Divine, you've deliberately set out to have yourself crowned Filthiest Person Alive with the full support of your nearest and dearest, your trailer is hardly likely to be an oasis of demure respectability.

And indeed it isn't; however, Divine's furniture-sucking, cop-cannibalism and final scene munching of a freshly-laid dog egg are but one avenue of this supremely fucked-up family's countless failings.

They arguably hit moral bottom when Crackers does the no-pants dance with a neighbour in full view of his leering clan, crushing a live chicken beneath him as he does so. Cock-a-doodle-don't. Ever. Please.

Would Therapy Help? We can't help feeling that even the most learned and beardy of Harvard graduates with a wall full of certificates would be rather pissing in the wind here.

No, what's needed when things have unravelled to this extent is a more basic programme of education and rehab. Preferably one involving some very strict and clear guidelines as to what substances do and do not count as reasonable human food.

Sitcom (1998)

The Family: Mum/Dad/Nicolas/Sophie

The Issues: Entirely rat-related, it would seem - the family starts to disintegrate the minute good ol’ pop brings one home as a household pet.

The son immediately declares himself to be gay and starts hosting to x-rated gatherings of dodgy-looking older strangers in his teenage bedroom, while the mother repeatedly and literally attempts to seduce him back into straightdom (see also Savage Grace ).

Meanwhile, the maid proves herself to be unihibited in the extreme; the daughter suddenly develops an obsession with extreme bondage and a death wish, and the father - suspecting his squeaky new friend may be the culprit for their household's comprehensive meltdown - decides (as you do) to kill and eat the accursed rodent before, um, turning into one himself.

Would Therapy Help? Hell no - even Jeremy Kyle would think twice about booking this lot. Mummy, can't we just stay at ours for Boxing Day this year...?

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