Father, Mother, Son and Daughter spent time in the living room over the weekend in the same manner as many other American families over the holidays: They fought bitterly over what movie to see.
It was an ongoing test of wills that flared anew with each change of the annual calendar.
Everyone knows the Oscar-caliber movies and other must-see blockbusters all arrive in a short span between Thanksgiving and mid-January, so the Family members separately begin plotting strategy starting each November on how to con and coerce the others into seeing their choice.
Father, as usual, was the aggressor. He was always afraid of the females of the Family conspiring against him, as they did in 2010 to talk him into seeing yet another insipid rom-com. After spending two hours with Reese Witherspoon in "How Do You Know," he wasn't about to be bamboozled again. The best defense against the Family's gentler gender was a good offense.
"Everyone else in the country is talking about 'Lincoln' and how good it is. We're going to see 'Lincoln,' and you're all going to learn something from it, damn it!" he declared.
The others were momentarily stunned. They had become accustomed to Father trying to assert his will by bluster, since he couldn't usually do it by reasoning, but this was raw, even by his standards.
Mother spoke up first.
"Yes, dear, anything Mr. Spielberg does certainly has a halo of quality surrounding it, but it sounds like a bit of schoolwork also. Rather too earnest, you know? Couldn't we be entertained better as a family by some other choice?"
Daughter pounced at the opening.
"We should see 'Les Miserables,' " she chirped. "It was great when I saw it on Broadway, and the film has a super cast." For extra effect, she used an operatic singing voice when adding, "We simply HAVE to seeeeee 'Les Mis.' "
"Sounds good to me," Mother chimed in.
Father's fears had been well-founded. It was a clear case of collusion. Technically, that was a violation of the Family's movie debate choice rules, but it was a prohibition hard to prove and enforce.
"You were up late talking in the kitchen last night, I noticed," Father said in an icy tone aimed at both of them. "What was the subject?"
"Oh, girl talk, silly stuff," Mother said.
"I've been having unusually heavy menstruation," Daughter quickly added, "and Mom was just --"
"OK, OK, knock it off," the patriarch sputtered. "Just don't think I don't know what you're doing."
The womenfolk looked at each other quizzically, shoulders shrugging, as Father cast a wary glance at Son. While clearly not a member of the female movie-debating axis, he was no reliable ally for Father either. If a shortage of bloodshed, profanity and scantily clad women would be on screen, Son typically tried to invoke a U.N. Security Council-style veto.
"Don't look at me. It's 'Django Unchained' or nothing," Son said with his usual economy of speech.
"Oh, nice -- rape and whipping and killings and 500 uses of the N-word," Father scolded a little too harshly, forgetting he needed Son's help. "I guess that means Christmas is over?"
Son shrugged and returned to his smartphone. The aging process had not yet taught him the fine art of negotiation.
The 7 o'clock round of movie showings was fast approaching, and the Family was getting nowhere. The tradition of a collective New Year's trip to the cinema was endangered. Mother, who overly prided herself as the Family's compromise voice of diplomacy -- the others mocked her occasionally by addressing her as "Hillary" -- stepped in.
"I think everyone could enjoy 'Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away' in 3D."
"Veto!" Son screamed from the couch before she had completed the sentence.
"Aw, grow up," Daughter snapped. "You're not Russia's U.N. ambassador, doofus."
The four sat silently for a minute, each one plotting in his and her own head what could be said to lure the others to end up in the preferred theater auditorium.
"I hear 'The Impossible' is good," Father finally said.
"What's that about?" his wife asked.
"A family is caught up in the 2004 tsunami. They struggle to survive when separated during an unthinkable catastrophe. They learn how much they mean to one another, and how the love of a family will make you fight for life and one another more than anything you can imagine."
"Wow," Daughter said. "That sounds like a great tearjerker. Let's go."
They all looked at Son before reaching for their coats.
"Does anyone die?" he asked.
"Hundreds of thousands," Father replied.
"OK then," Son said, and the Family set off happily for the multiplex once more.
Gary Rotstein: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1255. First Published January 7, 2013 5:00 AM