The Family Tree

Despondent Suburbia


26 August 2011| No Comments on The Family Tree     by Sean Chavel


Awkward, awkward, awkward. In addition to that, The Family Tree is a tone-deaf comedy-drama about misery in suburbia which in case you haven’t noticed has been done to death. Dermot Mulroney, Hope Davis, Max Thieriot and Brittany Robertson star as the Burnett family whom might as well be running with scissors the entire time. Self-consciously, the director Vivi Friedman puts an annoying hipster spin on family dysfunction, hammering home the mood with semi-lewd soundtrack songs. Also included in the cast are Chi McBride and Evan Ross as the father and son who are banging Mrs. Burnett separately, but only until she bangs her head and goes into short-term memory loss. Rachel Leigh Cook, Christina Hendricks, Madeline Zima, Gabrielle Anwar and Selma Blair are other actors stranded without complete parts – characters with agendas with nothing gained by their finish. The whole thing feels like something scraping the bottom of the barrel at a small festival film, but just happens to have a good cast of names.

It tries too @#!*% hard. I kept counting film references, starting with “American Beauty,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and “Regarding Henry.” Then there is Thieriot, as the Bible devotee and gun-carrying son Eric, who joins in with other Christian bullies to beat up those who smoke pot and participate in deviant activities. Their mayhem made me think also of “Romper Stomper” and “A Clockwork Orange.”

Uselessly, the movie has a motif of cutaway shots of squirrels. See, there’s a dead body hanging from the family tree in the front yard. It was of a kid who was spying on Mrs. Burnett while playing with himself. But he fell off the branch and hung himself by his binoculars strap. His body hangs there in the thick brush for most of the movie. So we get characters whiffing, “What’s that?” and shots of squirrels scurrying up and down the branches. God said Ha.

But that deceased horny kid in the tree isn’t the only one with a sexual hang-up. Everybody here has an adultery fantasy or confused bi-sexual orientation. Mr. Burnett has breast-obsessed fantasies about Alicia (Hendricks), the office assistant. He had a vague sex history with his co-worker Nina (Anwar) that is never explained. Ms. Delbo (Blair), the high school teacher, is having a lesbian affair with one of her handicapped students. The teens in the story dangle from one orientation to another, swaying on the issue of oral sex as a decisive factor that defines their preference. “The Family Tree,” in addition to everything else that is turgid, is a wasteland of oral sex jokes.

The bawdy slapstick leads up to a scene of two inept black kids taking the family hostage in their own home in the early evening, sometime around the prime-time TV hour. And as they fight their way out of the house following the inevitable slapstick chaos, can you guess who falls out of a tree? The movie wants to also razzmatazz us with quick-cutting montage cuts at the beginning and end of the movie but is so gracelessly assembled we barely care to take notice of them.

It sucks like “The Safety of Objects” and “The Chumscrubber.” Not good like “American Beauty” or “Little Children.”

95 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “American Beauty” (1999); “The Safety of Objects” (2001); “The Chumscrubber” (2005); “Little Children” (2006).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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