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Dustin Putman

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Family Weekend  (2013)
2 Stars
Directed by Benjamin Epps.
Cast: Olesya Rulin, Kristin Chenoweth, Matthew Modine, Joey King, Eddie Hassell, Robbie Tucker, Shirley Jones, Chloe Bridges, Chase Maser, Lisa Lauren Smith, Peter Gail, Adam Saunders.
2013 – 105 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for sexual content and drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 25, 2013.
"Family Weekend" is one of the biggest curiosities of the year, a film that would appear to be targeting a family audience a 'la 1996's "House Arrest," save for one key detail: it's rated R and includes rampant discussions of a sexually explicit and adult nature. Nevertheless, it's difficult to believe it was made strictly for grown-ups; from its aggressively juvenile nature, to its colorful-to-the-point-of-distraction characters, to its hectic, kooky tone, it appears to be catering to a younger demographic. Oh, and then there's this: our protagonist, neglected 16-year-old Emily Smith-Dungy (Olesya Rulin), wanders off time and again from the situation at hand—she has drugged her parents and tied them up in a last-ditch effort to knock some sense into them—to go obsessively jump rope in her room while dressed head-to-toe in white. It's all very "Funny Games," but with a slightly lower body count.

When the rest of her self-involved family fail to show up to support her while she competes in the regional jump-roping competition, it is just about the last straw for Type-A high-schooler Emily. Following a dinner gone awry, she slips a pill into the wine of her parents—workaholic corporate climber Samantha (Kristin Chenoweth) and bohemian artist Duncan (Matthew Modine)—then ties their passed-out bodies to chairs. When they awake, a lesson on how to be better parents begins. By the end of the weekend, Emily hopes that she might be able to have her old family back—or at least one that is slightly less dysfunctional.

"Family Weekend" is the feature directorial debut of Benjamin Epps, and while snowy Michigan production values are solid, one can tell right away that it's been independently produced because no major studio in their right mind would have greenlit it. As written by Matt K. Turner, talk of anal and oral sex shares time with an ensemble of characters too out-there to believe, from 9-year-old sister Lucinda (Joey King), who parades around as teenage prostitute Iris from "Taxi Driver," to brother Jackson (Eddie Hassell), who hides behind an air of homosexuality to hide his straightness, to littlest brother Mickey (Robbie Tucker), who wears a creepy monkey mask. There also is talk of adultery, pot-smoking, and itchy cooches. It's all a kind of whirlwind mess involving people who aren't pleasant enough to sympathize with, in a story that never quite seems to get to the root of the problem. Still, the cast is game—Joey King (2013's "Oz the Great and Powerful") is hilarious as the dramatic Lucinda ("You ever see CCR on LSD?" she asks a classmate of Emily's when he visits their house)—and one at least has to admire its fearlessness. All the same, we must return to the central question: who was "Family Weekend" made for? Beats the hell out of me.
© 2013 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman