So, I’m currently in the middle of several projects for this blog, but the one most likely to be published next/soonish covers House at the End of the Street and a movie called Summer’s Moon. While writing about the former, which stars Max Thieriot, I decided it would be appropriate to bring up some of his other movies, many of which happened to heavily feature brother/sister relationships. My couple of paragraphs on The Family Tree became several pages, and I decided it would be better to turn it into its own post.
The Family Tree came out in 2011 but it still feels like forever since I saw it. I kept about 25 minutes worth of clips, mostly focusing on the scenes between Max Thieriot’s character and his sister. I just rewatched those clips, which, naturally, helped refresh my memory, but I’m still fuzzy on what I didn’t rewatch.
The movie is about the dysfunctional Burnett family – mother Bunnie (Hope Davis), father Jack (Dermot Mulroney), daughter Kelly (Britt Robertson), and son Eric (Max Thieriot). We’re painted a rather ugly picture of their respective relationships – Bunnie is joyless and obsessed with the charity events she throws, and she’s having an affair; Jack is joyless and weak and not interested in his family or his marriage; Eric is a born again Christian and a gun nut; and Kelly acts like a slut and loves to say stuff that makes people angry.
The movie definitely has that independent film feel – fortunately it’s a bright and colorful comedy, which is a mitigating factor. I actually quite enjoyed it, though I agree with the criticism that it didn’t quite know what it was doing. And I feel like I’ve seen a lot of films just like this one – the parents always say extremely hurtful things, which is the only way to make the obnoxious teenager daughter seem at all sympathetic. The son is usually weird and fanatical in some way, and the daughter always thinks that everyone else is a hypocrite and likes to call everyone out on how fake they are. Yeah, I’ve seen this movie like 20 times. But at least this one has Max Thieriot in it.
What happens is that Bunnie gets amnesia and can only remember up until when she had first gotten married to Jack. The result is that she’s much sweeter, giving the family a sort of second chance at happiness and functionality. It’s a nice story, really. A happyish ending. And pretty funny at times. So I would definitely recommend it to someone who likes movies about dysfunctional families.
But on to Eric and Kelly’s relationship.
It’s clear that Eric’s love for the Bible and guns is fairly new and his family is still getting used to it. His father doesn’t like the gun part, and Kelly’s opposed to the Bible-thumping. Bunnie reserves all of her vitriol for her daughter.
Eric left it under her pillow the night before. (And that’s possibly not the first time he’s done it – the dialogue is unclear.)
Do you see the way the camera takes Eric’s perspective? We look down at the Bible along with Eric, and then we slowly slide up Kelly’s body. The coloring/lighting of the GIF doesn’t allow you to see exactly how suggestively she is appareled:(made all the better by the fact that her mother is about to comment on the fact that she can see right through her daughter’s shirt) but he’s got plenty to look at. And he does look at it – the proof is in the camerawork.
“Well if you want every boy in school thinking that you’re a little slut…” Bunnie says. “Which you may be.”
“Fine,” Kelly says. And then she proceeds to take her shirt off right there in front of everyone. And as you could probably guess from the nipple comment (and the screencap), she’s not wearing a bra. Her father’s sitting behind her, so he can only see her back, but Eric is sitting right next to her at the counter and his body is turned towards her which means if he wasn’t looking down at his cereal he would actually be facing her. His jaw drops and he turns to look away:
(I’m willing to concede the possibility that he didn’t think she was actually going to fully remove her shirt, and he was looking back at her assuming she was done feigning, only to see that she had indeed taken it off and was now totally topless.)
“Definitely a little slut,” Bunnie says. The parents seem largely unaffected, like it’s all very run-of-the-mill. Eric is the only one who seems to think it was a big deal. He just sits there and glances around, pouring his cereal and looking traumatized.It’s hilarious.
After their mother’s accident, while they’re all sitting around at the hospital, Eric is there with his reverend, and they’re talking about some of the shooting they were doing earlier, and Jack says, “Eric you’re weird enough as it is without being some sort of gun-nut to top it all off,” and we get a reaction shot from Kelly, who seems quite bothered. Later that night, Kelly and Eric are alone downstairs. Kelly is trying to hint that their mother was having an affair but Eric isn’t picking up on it. She’s eating ice cream right out of the tub (it’s a really big tub), and Eric takes it from her and sits down on the stairs and starts eating it with her spoon. She sits down beside him and says, “Do you think Mom blows Dad?”
Do you see the way she’s looking at him at the beginning of the GIF – you can see the idea come to her. They’ve just been having a perfectly civil conversation, and now they’re sitting down together, and she decides to act out against him. It’s pretty clear when she switches gears.
“They’re not getting a divorce.”
“Sure they are. But maybe a little oral sex would spice things up.” What doesn’t necessarily come across in the dialogue itself is that Kelly is clearing trying to upset him, both with her flippancy about the idea of their parents divorcing and the frank sexual discussion.
“What? There’s nothing wrong with it,” she argues. She’s offscreen, so I don’t know what her face looks like, but she sounds like she’s acting out the beginning of a porno.
“Yes there is,” he says, looking down.
“The Bible forbids it,” he says.
“What? What do I do?”
“You stay stuff just to piss people off. Why?”
I think it’s interesting the way she hesitates. Perhaps she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings and then decides it would be good for him, or perhaps she’s searching for the cruelest words she can say.
(I don’t think he’s a hypocrite. Although I do think taking the Lord’s name in vain the way he did a few seconds ago is probably a worse sin than anything he has derided Kelly for. But the thing about Eric is that I think he doesn’t quite understand that yet, so no, I don’t think calling him a hypocrite is fair. The rest is pretty accurate, if a bit harsh.)
She goes in to see her father later that night. He’s watching a video of when he and Bunnie first got married, so it’s sort of a nicer scene. They talk about how beautiful she was, and how much they were in love. Then Kelly tells him that he probably shouldn’t have called Eric a weirdo, “even thought he is”.
Eric hangs out with these “Christian” guys who like to find “sinners” and beat them up. Eric obviously isn’t as into it as the others, but he’s just as guilty. Though I think he has deluded himself into believing they’re actually doing good. This kid at school, Paul, catches them doing it and gets the last word before running away. So the leader of Eric’s little gang decides to go after Paul. It gets really bad, and Eric ends up saving him before the leader guy killed him. So he and Eric end up becoming friends.(Although the other Christian kids that Eric hangs out with are bad ‘uns, the Reverend, played by Keith Carradine, is a pretty cool dude.)
At the same time, there’s this lesbian subplot. I’m not sure what the point of it was and it never really gets a satisfying resolution either. There’s this girl, Mitzy (Madeline Zima), whose locker is next to Eric’s. It sorts of seems like she has a crush on him, especially since she knew his locker combination. Cause that’s normal. Right. She has a reputation for being a lesbian. Kelly starts hanging out with her a little and asking her about Eric. Mitzy is quite flattered to hear that Eric had told Kelly that she was nice. So Kelly says to Mitzy, “You’re straight, aren’t you?”
And Mitzy denies it, eventually saying, “Fuck you,” after Kelly kept pushing. “No, I don’t think so. I think you want to fuck my brother.” Kelly seems awfully interested in it, doesn’t she?
The four of them are at a carnival together – Paul and Eric hanging out, and Kelly hanging out with Mitzy. There’s one scene where they all look at each other and it’s super awkward. Mitzy waves at Eric, who has just denied knowing who she was to the inquisitive Paul. Kelly is glaring – Paul just nodded hello to her but the focus of the camera is on Eric as he waves abashedly back to Mitzy, so it seems more like Kelly is upset about that.
Jack and Bunnie are on the Ferris wheel. The amorous Bunnie decides to try and give Jack a blow job, remembering the days when he couldn’t keep his hands off her wherever they were. I’m not sure I really approve, but when the four kids, who have joined each other at the cotton candy stand, end up watching, I really have to appreciate the moment, because Kelly says to Eric with a smile, “Maybe their marriage will survive.” Eric just stands there, horrified.In a later scene, Eric and Kelly are hanging out on their front porch. I love it when a guy has his tie loosened, it really does it for me. So maybe that’s why I equivalate (OK, that’ not a word, but it should be) a loosened tie with male “lingerie”. Or perhaps because a guy usually only loosens his tie like that when he’s about to take his clothes off, or at the very least when he has retired to privacy. (Of course, in this case, Eric is still getting ready.) There’s just something so intimate about it. But seriously, Eric’s standing there with his untied tie just hanging around his neck and I’m thinking, “Is it really appropriate for you to be dressed like that while hanging out with your sister?” because it’s like a woman wearing lingerie in my mind. Kind of like school uniforms for girls.
Plus he’s leaning against the column all sexy-like.
I guess this my issue and not Kelly’s.
Anyway, he says, “Do you think Mom’s having a nervous breakdown?”
Kelly laughs. “That was different.”
“No. It means I’m generous.”
“Yeah, I know. I know you don’t,” he says. “You just want people to think that you do.”Their mother interrupts them. They both act skittish and embarrassed. Kelly was smoking, so she’s struggling to hide the cigarettes but I’m not sure what Eric is so shaken up about. I doubt he would care if she got caught smoking, especially not by Mom 2.0.
The next scene is at the church. (I can’t remember why the whole town seems to be there.) Paul is standing outside, and Eric joins up with him while the rest of his family heads inside. Paul and Kelly exchange some one-liners, and Eric watches awkwardly, and a little distressedly.“Dude, I can’t stop thinking about your sister,” Paul says.
So, picking up the lesbian subplot that I don’t understand the purpose of, Mitzy really is a lesbian (though the writer and director clearly went out of his way to make it seem like she wasn’t, which was annoying – but it was pretty cool the way he kept twisting it around), and she has been having an affair with one of their teachers (Selma Blair), who is having some sort of breakdown. Mitzy takes Kelly along to confront her.
The teacher is jealous, thinking that Mitzy and Kelly are together. Kelly says, “I’m not her girlfriend.”
“Yeah, we got it, Kelly: you’ll give it up for any asshole because you can’t have real feelings for anyone,” Mitzy responds. (Mitzy made a move on her earlier and was rebuffed.)
“I have real feelings,” Kelly protests.
“Yeah? For who?” Mitzy demands.
I think the implication is that Kelly didn’t have an answer for her. (I’m pretty sure Mitzy was talking exclusively about a romantic someone and not family or friends.) But it could just as easily be the case that Kelly didn’t want to say who it was. Eh?
So, the leader of Eric’s old posse totally loses it and pulls out a gun and fires a shot at a public event. Eric shoots at the bullet and hits it exactly (through out the movie he is described as a phenomenal marksman), stopping it. And that’s sort of how it ends. Eric is commended as a hero, as are Jack and Bunnie who helped save someone else and taken down the shooter. And they all are sort of happier and healed at the end. Yada yada yada.
I feel really silly because I barely remember what wasn’t in the clips that I kept. There was some hint, I think, that Kelly and Paul would soon be together. I think Bunnie probably got her memories back.
But who really cares, right? There was a reason I only kept the clips that I did.
For non-canon, it was pretty good, right? Her taking off her shirt in front of him (no bra!), their numerous conversations about blow jobs and especially the fact that she kept trying to bring up sexual things with him, the fact that both the friends were interested/allegedly interested in the siblings, the possibility that Kelly didn’t want to say who she had feelings for, and Eric outright telling Paul to forget Kelly.