Movie Review

 

It Runs in the Family poster

It Runs in the Family

Production Company: MGM
Director: Fred Schepisi
Principals: Michael Douglas, Kirk Douglas, Diana Douglas, Bernadette Peters, Cameron Douglas, Rory Culkin
Rating: PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned - strong, sometimes vulgar language, marijuana use, sexual situations)

By Lynne and Mardy DeMichele

(UMC.org) -- Life imitates art, imitates life in It Runs in the Family. Although there are some clear parallels between the high-powered fictional Gromberg family of the film and the high-powered real life Douglas family, producer/actor Michael Douglas insists this isn’t

Kirk, Michael, Cameron and Diana Douglas
Four of the principal actors, Kirk, Michael, Cameron and Diana Douglas, are related by birth or by marriage and play fictionalized versions of themselves in It Runs in the Family. Photo by Andrew Schwartz © 2003 Metro Goldwyn Mayer. All Rights Reserved.
a family portrait. Four of the principles, Kirk, Michael, Cameron and Diana Douglas, are related by birth or by marriage and play fictionalized versions of themselves. Although his speech has been impaired by a stroke, screen legend Kirk Douglas, at 86, plays family patriarch Mitchell Gromberg with verve. (Coincidentally, it is this three-time Oscar winner’s 86th movie.) Perhaps this isn’t the Douglas family portrait, but it is a very personal peek at an imagined New York clan, their inter-generational chaffing, their mutual frustrations, and their inarticulate love for one another.

In an early scene, the family is celebrating Passover, and during the Seder meal Mitchell praises “the Lord, our God, king of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” He announces that true religion is summed up in one phrase: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and laments that he may not have practiced what he preaches. In the Gromberg family the fruit has not fallen far from the tree. The plot revolves around the father/son relationship between Mitchell and his middle-age son, Alex (Michael Douglas), who works in the law practice founded by his father. He’s doing well and even finds time to volunteer at a soup kitchen, but always struggling to “measure up” in his father’s eyes.

Mitchell and Alex
The plot of It Runs in the Family revolves around the father/son relationship between Mitchell (Kirk Douglas) and his middle-age son, Alex (Michael Douglas), who works in the law practice founded by his father. Photo by Andrew Schwartz © 2003 Metro Goldwyn Mayer. All Rights Reserved.
In one scene, Mitchell pays his son a rare compliment, “You’re a much better father than I was.” To which Alex replies, “Well, you didn’t exactly set the bar all that high.”

Michael's real-life son, Cameron, plays his on-screen counterpart (21-year-old Asher Gromberg). Cameron’s role marks his acting debut and makes this the first production to boast three generations in the same film. The cast’s real-life relationships no doubt lend a particular ring of truth to many of the scenes. And although the Grombergs are more “big city” than most of us, there is much in their interaction that will resonate with any family.

Beneath the Grombergs’ current of anger and disappointment with one another lies a sense of commitment that’s rock solid. Two deaths in the family, an arrest for drug dealing and a sexual indiscretion rock the family’s rather tenuous union. But, instead of splintering, they make an effort to pull together, bolstered by Alex's pledge that “we're a family and we're going to figure it out together.” They do it imperfectly. But the important thing is that they do it at all.

Reviewers either loved or hated this well-publicized film. We were no exception. Lynne loved it; Mardy hated it.

Asher Gromberg
Michael Douglas' real-life son, Cameron, plays his on-screen counterpart (21-year-old Asher Gromberg). This role marks Cameron's acting debut. Photo by Andrew Schwartz © 2003 Metro Goldwyn Mayer. All Rights Reserved.
Lynne’s reaction: The interplay was so recognizably human, I was immediately drawn into the story. The chaotic holiday dinner scene was much like others being played out in homes everywhere, with everyone talking at once and no one really listening; allowances being made for a difficult, slightly “off center” relative; someone always irritated with someone else; the teenager screwing up again, and so on. Scenes that could have easily been played for laughs, came across as almost painfully real. I found this family fascinating and its members' foibles and rather clumsy efforts at relating to one another touching. There was no neat, happy ending, yet somehow I left the theater feeling hopeful.

Mardon’s reaction: The caution accompanying the PG-13 rating reads “Parents strongly cautioned. It has strong language and sexual situations.” Indeed, in today’s Hollywood tradition, the film seems preoccupied with strong language and sexual situations. From the patriarch through the 11-year-old grandchild, the sex lives of the characters seem to be included as an attempt to be “with it,” but only serve to point out how hollow the lives of the rich and famous can really be. This is not On Golden Pond nor is it My Big, Fat Greek Wedding. It’s an unintentional exposé on the disassociation that exists between the left and right American coasts and Middle America. Aside from that, the story is weak, the characters thinly drawn and unlikable, and the pace drags. Not much to like here.

Mardon DeMichele has been a filmmaker, professor and on-air critic. Lynne DeMichele is a professional writer, editor and former director of communications for the Indiana Area United Methodist Church.



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