As sure as the Pope resides at the Vatican, the Catholic Church won’t be organizing busloads of parishioners for fieldtrips to go see “The Perfect Family.”
That’s because this slight satirical comedy has as its center a woman so slavishly devoted to the church that she has worn blinders for years that keep her from seeing that her own family is falling apart. The film’s title, “The Perfect Family,” is meant to be ironic with a neon yellow highlighter through it.
A matronly Kathleen Turner tears with gusto into the role of Eileen Cleary, a seemingly devoted wife and mother who spends her days volunteering at her local parish, helping with communion, bringing meals to the elderly and serving on church committees.
It’s when Eileen is nominated for her local church’s Catholic Woman of the Year award, with its promise of a prayer of absolution administered by a visiting high ecclesiastical muck-a-muck that will bring forgiveness for all her sins, that the hypocrisy of her situation becomes glaringly apparent, eventually even to her. While Eileen has been busy crossing herself and genuflecting, her disaffected husband (Michael McGrady) has been going to AA meetings, her unhappy fireman son (Jason Ritter) has left his wife and kids for a manicurist, and her lawyer daughter (Emily Deschanel) — though still in the closet to Mom — is pregnant and planning to wed her female partner.
There’s more than a whiff of datedness to “Perfect Family.” Other than possibly the gay daughter getting hitched to her girlfriend, the supposedly shocking revelations seem so commonplace today that a viewer keeps wondering if this isn’t a mediocre William Inge play from the 1950s or early ‘60s that has been pulled out of a drawer somewhere, dusted off and mistakenly attributed to screenwriters Paula Goldberg and Claire V. Riley.
What keeps the movie — directed in workmanlike fashion by first-timer Anne Renton — watchable is Turner’s passionate performance and solid work by McGrady, Ritter and Deschanel. In smaller roles, Richard Chamberlain, sporting a variable Irish accent, turns up several times as Eileen’s clueless local priest, as does Sharon Lawrence as her condescending chief rival for the Catholic Woman award.
The movie never pushes its satire too far and is the poorer for it. One keeps wishing “Perfect Family” would go overboard rather than keeping such a short leash on itself.
Audiences can judge for themselves at home on May 4, as the comedy will be available on VOD the same day it hits theaters in New York and Los Angeles.
A viewer (at least one of a certain age) can’t help flashing back to “Serial Mom,” the 1994 John Waters comedy in which Turner played a similar role as an uptight mother intent on protecting her model family. What one wouldn’t give for a scene in “Perfect Family” to match the one in “Serial Mom” where Turner’s crusading matriarch beats a woman senseless for having the temerity to wear white after Labor Day. Now there’s an issue worth getting upset over.