Toronto
2 min

Dysfunctional

Family farce is confused

NO XANADU. Olivia Newton-John does a star turn in the comedy Sordid Lives. Credit: Xtra files

Comedies about dysfunctional family reunions can go one of two basic directions: Bite with a hard edge, presenting all-too-true versions of the family we know too well, or a broad farce where in-laws roll around in their own filth.



In the first, the audience laughs in pained spurts of, “Oh, they’re so right.” In the latter we enjoy feeling superior and laugh at the messes of other people’s lives.



The film Sordid Lives often falls flat for not making a clear choice. Well actually, it falls flat for many reasons, but that’s the main one.



The characters are broad, unrealistic portrayals even for the messiest family. Still, first time director Del Shores makes frequent pulls for our sympathy. We enjoy watching him belittle these characters but we just don’t feel sorry for cardboard cut-outs typical of old television sketch comedy (think Carol Burnett).



His worst miss is with Ty, the closeted, ex-soap star son and his endless monologue with a therapist in LA. Ty comes off as a whiny pretty boy with only one source of grief in his entire life, whether to come out or not. The wooden acting by Dean Cain look-alike, Kirk Geiger, doesn’t help.



On the opposite end, is the story of Ty’s drag queen uncle, locked away in the nut house for more than 20 years. He’s the film’s most sympathetic character. Leslie Jordan is completely over the top and we can’t help but root for the Tammy Wynette-wannabe in the asylum.



As for the rest of the family, the deeper the actors dissolve into their bizarre characters, the more enjoyable the whole thing becomes – especially Beth Grant as the pushover sister Sissy trying to quit smoking by snapping herself with a rubber band.



There are some delightful moments, especially as the pace builds before the final massing of the family at a funeral service. But overall, the cast of prime talent is wasted – including Olivia Newton-John (as a Honky Tonk singer), Beau Bridges, Academy Award-winner Bonnie Bedelia and Delta Burke.



There are some downright embarrassing performances, such as the uncle’s over-sexed doctor. Others just get missed: To lose a massively talented actor like Beau Bridges into a bland performance, takes really bad direction.



I must confess: Watching Sordid Lives on videotape, I interrupted screening the movie to satisfy my addiction to Malcolm In The Middle. In short, there’s nothing in Sordid Lives that isn’t served up weekly and better by Malcolm.



Sordid Lives opens Fri, Jan 18.