The past year proved difficult for many families. The year, though, was not devoid of hope, I’d imagine, especially those of Christian belief and practice.
One of the cultural silver linings saw a trend of mainstream films about family life. In this year of hybrid distribution of theatrical openings and streaming debuts, here’s the best of the family dramas -- in alphabetical order.
This foreign-produced film premiered exclusively in theaters, one of the first to do so of the fall premieres.
I alluded to a genre theme in my previous blog (linked here) with the subheadings: “the good, the bad and the beautiful.”
While set in 1960s Belfast, Northern Ireland, the family film is essentially a Western with a moral message at its core. The story culminates in an Old West standoff, pitting a father (Jamie Dornan) protecting his sons from being lured into a Protestant gang versus the gang leader (Colin Morgan) doing the luring.
The film, whose title is an acronym for “Child of Deaf Adult(s)” premiered online at the Sundance Film Festival. The film broke festival records, selling to Apple TV+ to the tune of $25M.
Emilia Jones plays Ruby Rossi, a supreme singing talent hoping to attend nearby Berklee College of Music.
She helps run the family fishing business by interpreting for her deaf parents (played by Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin) and deaf older brother (Daniel Durant).
Her coming-of-age revolves around these two desirable outcomes: staying home with the family she loves, or using her God-given voice and venturing out on her own. (Content caution: The Rossi family has a crass sense of humor.)
Richard Williams (Will Smith) and his wife Oracene (Aunjanue Ellis) realize the athletic potential of two of their daughters: Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton).
Richard trains the two of them to the start of their professional sports careers. This successful first film will be poised for sequels, as the two real-life tennis stars went on to win piles of major championships.
This film, however, focuses on the father and the brains behind the two girls and their coming-of-age. Richard tapes posterboard around the tennis courts hoping to form their moral character: “Work Hard, Be Humble, Always Say: ‘Thank You.’”
The simple advice holds true for the Williams’ other three daughters, more academically inclined, and serve as good nuggets for viewers to take away as well.
The film premiered free to subscribers on HBO Max for the first month of its release. It can currently be viewed theatrically.
A Quiet Place, Part II
This sequel film debuted in theaters, the first major delayed release to do so this past year.
Like CODA, the film features a deaf character, Regan Abbott (Millicent Simmonds) as the oldest child. I love the continued theme that what we would consider a disability in our current world plays instead as a strategic advantage in a world overrun by noise-adverse aliens.
Whereas the first movie worked as metaphor for the monastic life, this second chapter forces the Abbot family into an apostolic mission of sorts, hoping to gather more members into the protection of their circle.
While this film is about family, violent horror elements mean it's not suitable for all family members, as the rating indicates.
Rated PG-13 for stylistic violence and alien horror elements.
Jake Doyle (Neil Patrick Harris) spends time with his daughter over a friendly game of video games. As they play, he recounts to her the story of the lengths he and his friends went to in trying to secure the original Nintendo Entertainment System for the neighborhood where he grew up. The filmmakers brought home the feel of 1980s Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. I know it well, having grown up in that time and place. The film’s message of family bonding over and above any material gift rings true then and now, even if I didn’t quite appreciate it then.
Available on HBO Max.
Maria Chapdelaine (French with subtitles)
The film begins with the Chapdelaine family worshiping at Christmas Mass.
As a frontier family clearing land in a very remote part of 1900s Quebec, the one sacrament will have to sustain them for most of the year.
Eldest daughter Maria (Sara Montpetit) considers marriage proposals from various suitors, while working the edge of the forest with her parents to provide for her younger siblings.
I saw this film at the 2021 Chicago International Film Festival. It still awaits an American distributor.
Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.