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Review by Tom Avila
Rating: (5 out of 5) [Critic’s Pick!]
Saturday, 10/15/2011, 2:00 PM
Feature presentation, $12 at Atlas Center for the Performing Arts
IN THE MOST lovely of fashions, An Ordinary Family brings to the screen exactly what it promises: an ordinary family. The Biedermans are funny without seeming scripted, warm without becoming tepid and are absolutely unafraid to admit the thing that most fictional families avoid like the plague: There are things they don’t know.
There are answers they don’t have. There are choices they make that will not be agreed upon and there are, and this is what gives the film such joy and texture and charm, secrets that will always be kept. Some are big, some are small, but they needn’t all be drug out into the middle of the living room to be solved in some large, cathartic group screaming fest. They are, in other words, like the families a lot of us either live in or recognize.
Seth (Greg Wise) and his boyfriend William (Chad Anthony Miller) arrive for the Biederman family vacation week at the lake. It’s an awkward situation to begin with as Seth has had little contact with his brother Thomas (Troy Schremmer), a popular and conservative local pastor, since Seth came out to him. But things are further complicated by the fact that only Seth’s sister-in-law Mattie (Janelle Schremmer) knew that William even existed.
Chris (Steven Schaefer), Seth’s brother-in-law, doesn’t even know that Seth’s gay, insisting at the end of the family’s first difficult dinner together, ”No way. Seth’s straight as shit.” An indication of his failure to fully grasp William’s explanation that he and Seth met online and it was ”like love from the waist down.”
Which is part of what makes An Ordinary Family so wonderful as a film. There is a robust and entirely organic feel to the movie, made real in small moments like when Mattie bickers with her husband Thomas about his working in bed. It doesn’t blow into an overly articulate diatribe, but instead fades into something familiar and entirely everyday.
The film delivers no big answers. No shocking revelations that will leave you gape-mouthed in disbelief. This is that very difficult filmmaking that attempts to craft great fiction out of the common-day, and succeeds because writers Mike Akel (who also earns the director credit) and Matt Patterson have started out with the often ignored fundamental element of films. With An Ordinary Family, they have chosen to tell a great story. And they have done so in a fashion that is entirely extraordinary.