An Ordinary Family: Film Review
This gay “coming out” story from director Mike Akel and his writing and producing partner Matt Patterson gently merges family drama with many nicely realized comedic moments.
This gay “coming out” story shifts the focus from the one coming out to the one family member struggling with accepting his gay brother. An Ordinary Family can’t help seeming somewhat behind the times, a movie that would’ve made more sense perhaps a decade ago. But director Mike Akel and his writing and producing partner Matt Patterson insist this is still a divisive issue in “fly over states” so perhaps An Ordinary Family is something of a catch-up movie for Middle America. Whatever the case, the film is quietly affecting as it gently merges family drama with many nicely realized comedic moments.
The big question, of course, is whether those in the fly over states will go to see such a film, should the makers find a distributor following its L.A. Film Fest bow. This film might be better suited for cable television, where viewers can watch the first few minute and maybe get caught up in a drama that doesn’t so much seek to deliver a message as to sort through various reactions to a gay man across the spectrum of easy acceptance to outright homophobia.
In any event, An Ordinary Family represents a considerable improvement in dramatic narrative over Akel’s last indie effort, Chalk (2006), a mostly improvised story about schoolteachers. Akel, himself a performer as well as a writer-director, remains an actors’ director as he favors ensemble work built around a single location that gives each thespian a chance to shine more than once.
The film, shot entirely in the Austin, Texas area, takes place at a spacious two-story house where the Biederman family takes its annual summer vacation. Only this year estranged brother Seth (Greg Wise) has decided to bring along his new boyfriend William (Chad Miller). William finds out that few family members know he is coming just moments before Seth rings the doorbell. Oops!
This scene plays out mostly comically but the one that follows, at the family dining table, takes a dramatic turn. It’s unclear how many family members knew or guessed about Seth’s sexual orientation, but the one person who is notaccepting of the presence of a boyfriend is his brother Thomas (Troy Schremmer), who happens to be a Protestant clergyman.
Thomas’ inability to come to terms with his brother’s homosexuality not only dampens the holiday spirit but puts strains on his marriage to Mattie (Janelle Schremmer, who is indeed the actor’s wife). Much more tolerant than her husband, she works with Thomas gently but persistently to change his tune while his mother Sarah (Laurie Coker) gradually lends her weight to her daughter-in-law’s campaign.
The film is more relaxed than it sounds as time is found for father-son moments, swim outings and the general horsing around that happens when families gather. Along the way, a slightly homophobic brother-in-law (Steven Schafer) manages to bond with the boyfriend when each sneaks smokes in well disguised locations while other family member come to appreciate William’s sense of humor and good natured warmth. Only one family member remains a holdout, but it soon becomes clear that this is the key one as far as Seth is concerned.
The screenplay by Akel and Patterson goes for the same vignette approach Akel tried in Chalk, although this time there is a much better dramatic through line and more coherence within the vignettes themselves. Some episodes feel a little heavy-handed such as when Seth dumps into an slightly drunk former girlfriend who is unaware he is out of the closet. Most of the scenes seem somewhat improvisational but the actors’ objectives remain clear and the direction makes its point subtly without fuss or bother. The ensemble very much convinces you that they area family, and you wouldn’t mind being invited to their next summer outing.
The film benefits greatly from David Blue Garcia’s graceful camerawork and a melodic though unobtrusive score by composer Evan Jacobs.
Venue: Los Angeles Film Fest
Production Company: Matter Media Studios
Cast: Tom Schremmer, Greg Wise, Janelle Schremmer, Chad Anthony Miller, Steven Schaefer, Megan Minto, Laurie Coker
Director: Mike Akel
Screenwriters: Mike Akel, Matt Patterson
Producers: Matt Patterson, Mike Akel
Executive producers: Karen Markham, Steve Markham, Jeffrey Travis
Director of photography: David Blue Garcia
Production designer: Stephen Fay
Music: Evan Jacobs
Editor: David Fabelo
No rating, 92 minutes