Dysfunctional family tale keeps you guessing

UNDER ONE ROOF: Fonda plays Hillary, an oversexed mother who calls her brood for a one-week reunion to mourn their father.


    Sep 18, 2014

    Dysfunctional family tale keeps you guessing


    Drama comedy/104 minutes/Opens today

    Rating: 3/5

    The story:

    Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) catches his wife cheating on him with his boss, Wade (Dax Shepard). While he is trying to deal with the situation, his world comes crashing down again when his father suddenly dies. His mother (Jane Fonda) then calls all of the Altman siblings back to the childhood home to mourn their father together for a week.

    EVERY family deals with death in a different way.

    For the Altmans, it means sitting shiva, the Jewish practice of gathering together in one home to mourn and receive visitors for an entire week (shiva is Hebrew for seven).

    That is what matriarch Hillary (Fonda) forces her children to do for their father, despite the fact that they are not Jewish - only the first sign of how dysfunctional they are.

    Loud and brash, they are the type of family who constantly air their dirty laundry in public, often intentionally.

    They openly make fun of one another's sex lives and, more disturbingly, joke about how "comfortable" it is to snuggle up to their mother's new boob job.

    Given how obnoxious each family member is, they get along best by staying as far away from one another as possible, so a big reunion like this one is an occasion for immediate friction.

    Movies featuring rude, dysfunctional families are hardly new - recently in Singapore, there was the endless antics and screechy bickering in August: Osage County (2013).

    The premise is also completely overused.

    But this one still manages to stand on its own because it surprises right till the end. Based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Tropper (who also wrote the film's screenplay), it is almost impossible to anticipate what any of the Altmans will get up to next.

    There are high jinks in a Jewish temple, adultery and rekindled romances, and so much else going on that it is admittedly exhausting to follow. But there are a number of genuinely tender moments that make this family a believable unit.

    Of course, director Shawn Levy (Cheaper By The Dozen, 2003; Night At The Museum, 2006) is greatly helped here by a top-notch ensemble cast, even if the casting choices are obvious.

    But stealing all the scenes she appears in is the glamorous Fonda, who is hilarious in her role of the oversexed mother and celebrity psychologist, who gleefully reveals all of her family's personal problems in a best-selling self-help book.