Are Family Films Making a Comeback?

Remember how Jeff Daniels crawled out of the movie screen and into the theatre in The Purple Rose of Cairo? As I watched Dan in Real Life a few weeks ago, I wanted to do the same thing--in reverse. So real, so endearing, so inviting is life with the Burns family that I wanted to teleport myself right into their living room. I don't endorse many things, but you have to see this film. Take your children. Take your mother. You can even take your grandmother; if there's a profane word, I don't remember it. (And if there was one, Nana Burns probably smacked whoever said it with a wooden spoon.)

The purity this film offers isn't the cotton candy, sweetness and light, all's well in the world variety. It's a this-is-how-normal-families-who-care-about-each-other-behave kind of reality that rarely shows up on screen. Somewhere between the nastiness of Arrested Development and the saccharine of The Brady Bunch, there's a happy medium of family life with which most of us can identify. Director Peter Hedges has nailed it. These people have problems, but instead of pulling out a weapon, an illegal substance, or a stream of expletives, they actually WORK THINGS OUT. What a concept!

And now comes August Rush, which is a tad heavier on the saccharine, although the music score more than makes up for it. (If there's a budding musician in your family, this is required viewing, and if you like happy endings, you're in for a real treat.) Granted, the story line's pretty implausible, and most of the bad things that would befall a youngster alone on the streets don't, but I give director Kirsten Sheridan lots of points for creating a family-friendly film that's inspiring, uplifting, profanity-free, and worth the nine bucks it cost me to see it (the latter all too rare an occurrence). And while the two main characters do engage in a single act of unprotected, unmarried sex (which we happily do not see), the result is the consequence every parent warns about.

Is this a fluke? Two movies in a month with worthwhile plots, quality acting, believable dialogue, and NO swearing, sex, or violence? Could it be--gasp!--that Hollywood has finally figured out there's an actual market for intelligent, non-offensive films? Frankly, I think that's too much to hope for, so I urge you to pile Grandma and the kiddies in the car ASAP and prove the point by buying tickets--lots and lots of them...send everyone you know whose ears are numb and who's definition of "acceptable" has been stretched to the max--to these two movies. With luck, there are more to follow.