Miserable Clan Gets a Second Act in The Family Tree


The sneering misanthropy of American Beauty should’ve killed off dysfunctional-surbuban-family movies last century, but somehow indie iterations trickle forth. True to form, this one pivots on the quirky misery of its characters. As The Family Tree begins—in a therapy session, naturally—the Burnett brood’s bonds have long since unraveled under the strain of contemptuous familiarity: Sharp-edged mum Bunnie (Hope Davis) engages in serial affairs, while office-drone hubby Jack (Dermot Mulroney) is too depressed to get even get one off the ground; and twin siblings Eric (Max Theriot) and Kelly (Britt Robertson) experiment with Jesus-loving, gun-toting, promiscuity, and whatever else might dull the pain. A boink-related head injury and subsequent amnesia alter the dynamic, and valuable life lessons ensue. Thin as it is, Family Tree is no slog—the droll, attentive performances by Davis and Mulroney are endearing, and the extraneous guest-star bits (including Christina Hendricks as a secretary, no less) and rambling B stories aren’t overly distracting. The movie never rises above sitcom-pilot aspirations, but screenwriter Mark Lisson and director Vivi Friedman at least understand that fucked-up family units are no longer credible shorthand for What’s Wrong With America. Instead, they make a small case for not succumbing to nostalgic malaise—too bad it’s in a genre as played-out as their lead characters’ passion.