Gary Rotstein's The Morning File: Choosing film brings out Family's drama

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As the holidays arrived, along with school breaks and the start of the movie awards season, it was time for the Family's annual effort to find a film to attend together.

It was certain to be another impossible imbroglio that only long-frustrated Middle East negotiators would understand. Discussions in prior years led to screaming, sulking, stomping and every type of spiteful retaliation short of drone strikes. Universal satisfaction was almost unheard of.

True, on one promising evening in late 2008 everyone rallied around "Slumdog Millionaire," but that solidarity was as reliably short-term as a vow of love for his extended family from Kim Jong Un.

The four members of the Family had shed so much blood since then over rom-coms, fantasy epics, historical dramas, shoot-'em-ups and charming little films from the Brits that it seemed futile as 2013 turned to 2014 for anyone to renew the effort.

But Father plowed ahead. He was still trying to atone for the travesty of 2006, when he was responsible for leading them to Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto," somehow having gained the impression it was a family film. (He has never publicly admitted to his mistake, however, perhaps because Daughter annually repeated her desire to re-enact a scene from the film and remove his heart while still beating. "Nice, thanks," he would calmly reply before surreptitiously hiding the kitchen's sharpest knives.)

So as the Family finished a meal over the weekend, Father tried a bold move.

"I checked the listings. 'The Wolf of Wall Street' starts in 25 minutes. Let's go," he said, reaching for his coat.

Son chimed in, "All right! Scorsese *$*&@ rocks!"

Father blanched. This was the double-edged curse of having Son's support on anything involving the Family's females. The lad inevitably sabotaged the entire effort.

"Hey, that language is not allowed in this house!" Mother shrieked. "And I read that that 'Wolf' movie uses the worst swear word 506 times, 2.83 times per minute, more than any movie ever. I will not allow this family to go there."

Daughter, who fancied herself a strong young woman capable of surviving any ordeal (though she'd never actually done anything braver than go to the mall alone) suggested "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire."

Mother offered immediate endorsement. "It would be nice to see a movie led by a strong female character for a change," she said, drawing a moan from Son.

Son rarely used words to offer his opinions, relying instead on grunts, coughs, sighs and other prehistoric-era cues, which is why it irked Father so much that the boy had spoken up and ruined their Scorsese opportunity.

"Let's skip the fantasies -- there are so many good, real-life movies to see," Father said. "If you won't see a critically acclaimed movie like 'Wolf of Wall Street' about what was wrong with America in the 1990s, let's go see 'American Hustle,' about what was wrong with the country in the 1970s, or '12 Years a Slave,' about what was wrong in the 1800s."

Daughter asked, "Why does everyone in Hollywood hate America?"

"They don't," Father replied. "They just, uh ... um ... they're just looking to tell a story."

"Well, I hate you for wanting to see such movies!" Daughter shouted, which Father at least considered an improvement over her wanting to see his heart ripped out.

"I've got it!" Son piped up. " 'Grudge Match' Stallone! De Niro!"

Mother frowned. She and Son rarely saw eye-to-eye in the movie department, and a movie about aging boxers wasn't likely to change that.

It would be like her suggesting everyone see some new documentary on haute couture or breast-feeding. Actually, Son might go for the breast-feeding film, too, but, unfortunately, none existed.

The Family was making no headway toward a choice, and Father visualized every parking space within 500 yards of the theater entrance rapidly filling. It was near panic time. That's when Mother, of all people, came to the rescue.

" 'August: Osage County' should be wonderful," she said. "It's got Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts among its Oscar winners, and it won the Pulitzer Prize as a play. It has to be terrific."

"What's it about?" the kids asked in unison.

"There's a dysfunctional family of emotionally erratic characters, constantly using put-downs while at each other's throats," Mother explained.

"So it's a documentary?" Father asked.

Mother explained that it wasn't, but it might make everyone feel good to see even a fictional family behaving worse toward one another than they did themselves. "And besides," she added, "how could a couple hours with Meryl Streep be bad?"

With that, the Family donned coats, hats and gloves and set out optimistically. For at least one more year, they would see a movie together.

Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


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