The Family Tree

The Family Tree

Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Max Thieriot and Brittany Robertson in THE FAMILY TREE, a film directed by Vivi Friedman. Picture courtesy Entertainment One. All rights reserved.

The Family Tree (2010/2011)

Opened: 08/26/2011 Limited

Limited08/26/2011
Village East08/26/2011 - 09/08/201114 days
Sunset 5/LA09/02/2011 - 09/08/20117 days
DVD11/15/2011

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Twitter, Facebook

Genre: Comedy/Drama

Rated: R for sexual content, pervasive language, drug use and some violence.

Synopsis

In THE FAMILY TREE, life in suburban Serenity, Ohio is never quite as serene as it appears. The dysfunctional Burnett family -- Bunnie (Hope Davis), Jack (Dermot Mulroney) and their twin 17-year-olds Eric (Max Thieriot) and Kelly (Brittany Robertson) -- seems like a lost cause. When a freak accident leaves Bunnie with a case of amnesia, the Burnetts get an unexpected second chance at happiness. Meanwhile, next door neighbor Simon (Chi McBride) is relieved that his tryst gone wrong with Bunnie remains undetected, at least for the moment. Before long, a slew of past relationships, kids with guns, a suicidal teacher, a very zealous religious club, misinterpreted advances, corporate down-sizing, and one fateful squirrel combine to create enough mayhem to test the resolve, sanity and future of any family! After all, every family has its hang-ups.

THE FAMILY TREE is directed by Vivi Friedman, written by Mark Lisson, produced by Allan Jones, J. Todd Harris, Mark Lisson and Kathy Weiss, executive produced by Robert E. Griffin, Jr. and Marc Toberoff, with editing by Patrick Sheffield, music by Stacey Hersh, cinematography by Hong-Wei Joplin Wu, production design by Jesse Benson, costume design by Kelle Kutsugeras, and editing by Seth Flaum and Justine Halliday. The film stars Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Max Thieriot, Brittany Robertson, Chi McBride, Keith Carradine, Madeline Zima, Shad Moss aka Bow Wow, Christina Hendricks, Gabrielle Anwar, Evan Handler and Jane Seymour.

Long Synopsis

Life in suburban Serenity, Ohio is never quite as serene as it appears. Instead of happy days and rosy gardens, the dysfunctional Burnett family -- Bunnie (Hope Davis), Jack (Dermot Mulroney) and their twin 17 year olds Eric (Max Thieriot) and Kelly (Britt Robertson) -- seems like a lost cause as stagnation, infidelity, and one tricky mother-in-law (Jane Seymour) eat away at the core of this modern American family. When a freak accident leaves Bunnie with a case of amnesia, the Burnetts get an unexpected second chance at happiness. Meanwhile, next door neighbor Simon (Chi McBride) is relieved that his tryst gone wrong with Bunnie remains undetected, at least for the moment.

With no memories of her bad marriage, her children, or even the affair that caused her amnesia, Bunnie tries to pull the family together but it's no easy task. After ignoring her husband, Jack, for years, he has become a lost soul, begging his heartless boss (Evan Handler) for a promotion while desperately flirting with co-workers (Christina Hendricks and Gabrielle Anwar). Eric now looks to Reverend Diggs (Keith Carradine) as a pseudo-father figure, albeit it a gun-toting, pot-smoking one. And Kelly lashes out at everyone while befriending handicapped lesbian Mitzy (Madeline Zima) and stringing along punk rock rebel Paul (John Patrick Amedori).

Before long, a slew of past relationships, kids with guns, a suicidal teacher, a very zealous religious club, misinterpreted advances, corporate down-sizing, and one fateful squirrel combine to create enough mayhem to test the resolve, sanity and future of any family!

And as things finally come to a head in the Burnett's driveway, two wannabe criminals from lockup (Bow Wow and Jermaine Williams) follow Simon (who just got arrested after a misunderstand with the local police) home and kidnap him along with Bunnie and Jack. This results in a whacky series of events that will either bring the family together or ruin them for good.

THE FAMILY TREE is a hilarious, touching, and offbeat comedy which explores the frailties and complexities of the contemporary American family -- and what it takes to survive in a suburban jungle. After all, every family has its hang-ups.

Director's Statement

Sometimes, when one starts a project, you can't imagine the journey that awaits. When I started working on this film, more than seven years ago, George W. Bush was the President. There were themes emerging in this country that not only made me worried but also led me to be more politically aware than I had ever been. There was a lot of talk of moral values, of religion, and of gun control. Curiously the ideals being discussed ranged from the definition of marriage being only between a man and a woman, of sexual abstinence before marriage, going to church regularly, and the right to carry a gun. At the same time, the stories dominating the media were those of corruption, sex scandals, and high school shootings.

Having grown up in Finland, I come from a background of general tolerance and open-mindedness, something of a laissez-faire mentality, to each their own. I found the emerging trend of conservatism, intolerance, and mind control increasingly disturbing.

When I read the screenplay for THE FAMILY TREE for the first time, the title was still "Driving Lessons," a title which resonated with me as a metaphor for life; I liked the thought that learning to drive a car was like learning to live your life. There were rules and there were signs, yet there was always a chance for a crash! I was instantly drawn to the story of characters that seemed to be so lost. I was attracted to these people searching for their identity and their way in the world. The story painted a satirical picture where everyone was imperfect and dysfunctional. It managed to combine infidelity, betrayal, drugs, stereotypes, and school shootings. These are hardly cheerful themes, but as I have always had a love for the absurd, I instantly welcomed the challenge to bring this story to life.

Any of the topics by them self would have made for a tragic, profound, and perhaps even disturbing film -- but all crammed together into one allowed me to approach it as a dark comedy. I wanted to embrace the absurd and yet not to serve it up pre-digested like a broad comedy in which there is often the temptation to spoon-feed the laugh lines. For me, the best jokes are subtle and the comedy lives in the subtext. Comedy is always a challenging genre - most especially when dealing with ideas that are potentially so 'wrong.'

What also particularly interested me were the 'how' and the 'what if' of the story. How did a young marriage with so much hope become so unhappy and so disillusioned? What if one got a chance to push the 'reset'-button and re-invent ourselves? How significant do the events need to be to make us open our eyes and appreciate what we have? What if all we needed was (just like Bobby hanging in the tree) right in front of us?

THE FAMILY TREE is not a political story, but rather it is a story about hypocrisy, and the message is of tolerance and forgiveness; that we are all entitled to our opinion, even if it is wrong. Sometimes in order to see what is right in front of us, we need a hit in the head. Or sometimes, we need a magic bullet.

In the two years the film took to complete, we have acquired a new President and ostensibly also, changes in the rhetoric of our ideals. Yet it seems people are not so ready to embrace the changes and perhaps that is why there seems to be more than ever a sense of hypocrisy and intolerance. I think that the themes of the film are timely and I hope that the film can inspire somehow that we find more openmindedness and forgiveness. And hopefully it also allows us to laugh at ourselves.

-- Vivi Friedman, Director

Writer's Statement

I first thought of writing THE FAMILY TREE many years ago. I was making my living as an Executive Producer running hour-long television series. One night I actually got home early -- about 8pm -- and found my wife and ten year old daughter watching old videos of the family. I sat down to watch the videos and very quickly came to the sad conclusion that, not only was I hardly in any of them, I really didn't recall many of the incidents flickering on the TV in front of me. It seemed I had spent a great deal of my time working and that's when I started to think of the character of Jack -- a man obsessed with work even to the detriment of his family.

Now, I happen to have an exceptionally understanding wife and because of her, a very smooth and loving marriage. I'm very lucky in that respect. However, as the years passed I noticed many of my friend's marriages imploding for one reason or another and started to think why them and not us? Like many marriages we've had our ups and downs, our good stretches and bad stretches. Why did our marriage survive and others didn't? That was the genesis of the movie.

Then, I got to witness something I found incredibly interesting and moving. I was running another show and one of the writers working for me was going through a terrible situation. His very beautiful wife, the mother of his two children, had met a very famous man (also married) and started to have an affair with him. The paparazzi got hold of it and my writer/friend couldn't even walk out of his own house without being plastered all over the front pages of the National Enquirer. After a few months, and probably what seemed like an eternity to my friend, his wife ended her relationship with the other man. Watching this from afar, I thought that there was no chance that this marriage would survive. But, when tragedy almost befell one of them, they both realized how much they meant to each other and how important it was to keep their family intact. Many years have passed since and that couple is still together and one of the happiest I know.

-- Mark Lisson, Writer

 

Trailer