Now, I’m not saying that my family is perfect, but I’ve definitely walked away from theaters and shut my laptop this year thinking, “Well shit, things could be worse.” My mom, for example, goes on a monologue about religion every time it’s just the two of us in the car, but I’m grateful she’s not possessed by a greedy spirit. And my father may rarely communicates his feelings to his children, but at least he’s never told any of my ex-boyfriends, with a straight face, that they will “never be good enough” for our family.
If the interactions you’ve had with your family this holiday season are making you want to drink a little too much or scream at the top of your lungs, remember that you always have the option to stream these movies and feel at least a tiny bit more grateful for what you have.
Searching, a thriller feature debut by Aneesh Chaganty, is one of those movies that will make you want to log out of your social media accounts forever. It's also one that will make you rethink doing something nice for someone ever again. But most of all, it’s about one small dysfunctional family being torn apart by grief.
When the perfect mother and wife Pamela dies of cancer, she leaves behind her husband David and their teenage daughter Margot, who are both so devastated by the loss that they’ve essentially stopped communicating entirely. It’s only when Margot goes missing that David learns who his daughter really is—she’s a loner, she quit the piano lessons David was paying $100 USD a week for months before her disappearance, and she smokes weed with his younger brother to sort out her issues.
John Cho’s acting here is Oscar-worthy—we see him spiral as he learns the secrets Margot has kept, and about Detective Rosemary Vick, who was assigned the case, and her suspicious behavior. The film is a cautionary tale. It’s what could happen when family members stop checking-in on one another. But hopefully it won’t encourage anyone's dad to get all stalkery on their own children anytime soon.
Crazy Rich Asians
When the shiny, over-the-top, very Asian Crazy Rich Asians came out, the general consensus was that the movie reflects the gap and conflicts between Asian culture and Asian-American culture. But I think the historic blockbuster is actually a story about an unhealthy mother-son relationship above all else.
Eleanor Young is cold because the world has not been so nice to her. White people underestimate her because she’s Asian. Her mother-in-law disapproves of her because, despite her best efforts, she’s still the outsider. Her husband is nowhere to be found, even when Nick Young—her most handsome, most chiseled, most kind and humble half-God of a son—returns to Singapore after years in New York, he comes with some difficult news. Oh, poor Eleanor!
But not really. Because she doesn’t have to react to her own emotional baggage and insecurity by clinging on Nick the way she does. And Nick doesn’t have to hide his wealthy, controlling family from his girlfriend Rachel, and his simple, middle-class girlfriend from Eleanor.
What we have here is a mother and a son who are so dependent on each other that they can’t see that they don’t know how to express love in a healthy way at all. Never in a million years would I fight for a grown man who doesn’t know how to communicate with his own mother, so Rachel is in for a rocky marriage if you ask me. Remember, even at their engagement party, Eleanor gives them one last disappointed look. That woman is salty. And she will stay salty unless Rachel drags her and Nick to some mother-son therapy.
Look, it’s in the title. Everything you are and everything you have inside of you has been most likely passed down from the generations before you—your mental health problems, your addictions, your high blood pressure, your debt, and all your other demons included.
Our protagonist here is a miniatures artist Annie Graham, who even at her mother’s funeral, admits she never really understood her at all. We slowly learn how rotten this family is as we see Annie’s peculiar daughter behead a dead pigeon and then gets beheaded herself in a freak accident, which leads to Annie blaming the tragic death on her son Peter. Then Annie befriends a superstitious older friend, who turns out to be a member of the cult that her late mother belonged to, and she finally pieces together what literal demon is haunting her family and to save Peter at the end.
I sympathize with Annie here because there is no way she could have found out that her mother had signed up for a deal with the devil that would affect the family for generations to come. If you think your family is bad, then let’s just say at least your grandmother doesn’t sacrifice all the women and girls in your family so some demon could eventually settle in a male body.
Shoplifters is probably the most heartbreaking film on this list because the dysfunctional family members we’re looking at here are victims of institutional poverty, not their own issues, who are just trying to get through life, one day at a time.
This film follows a Japanese family, where middle-aged Osamu teaches Shota, a young boy he found in a car, to shoplift from the grocery store in order to survive. One day the pair come across Yuri, a young girl out in the cold, and decide to take her in as well. Osamu’s wife Nobuya grows close with Yuri and refuses to let her return her to her birth family. The authorities eventually find out about the family’s crimes and Yuri’s whereabouts, so they end up being separated by the very system that indirectly brought them together.
The film wrestles with some tough questions—how much are we responsible for our own suffering or our own joy? What makes a family a family? What makes a dysfunctional family so dysfunctional?