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REVIEW – The Addams Family

Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld
Produced by: Scott Rudin
Written by: Caroline Thompson, Larry Wilson
Edited by: Dede Allen
Cinematography by: Owen Roizman
Music by: Marc Shaiman
Starring: Anjelica Huston, Raúl Juliá, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci, Jimmy Workman, Judith Malina, Carel Struycken, Elizabeth Wilson, Dan Hedaya, Dana Ivey, Paul Benedict, John Franklin, Christopher Hart(’s hand)
Based on The Addams Family comics by Charles Addams
Year: 1991

 

“And you thought your family was weird! Meet… the Addams Family!”

… You can practically imagine what kind of crappy trailer and taglines could be written for this film adaptation of Charles Addams’ comic strip. Released on the same day as Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, though the film is undoubtedly going for a different audience, it’s still impressive that the film was as successful as it was, given that fact. Critics generally enjoyed it, audiences loved it (forking over $191.5 million worldwide against a $30 million budget), and the film led to a resurgence in the brand, spawning an acclaimed sequel, an animated series, and – heck – even one of the most successful pinball machines ever made. Heck, it was even Barry Sonnenfeld’s first film as director, leading to such acclaimed hits as Men in Black, Get Shorty, and… Wild Wild WestNine Lives… Well, you can’t win ‘em all, but still.

Leaning heavily on the ‘60s TV series (borrowing the theme song in the process), The Addams Family follows the titular ghoulish family dealing with the return of the long-lost Uncle Fester, who had previously disappeared after a fight with brother and family patriarch Gomez Addams. Reportedly having suffered amnesia after getting himself lost in the Bermuda Triangle, Fester attempts to reintegrate into the family, much to the suspicion of both matriarch Morticia and daughter Wednesday, who question his various lapses in what should be well-ingrained memories. And with good reason, as the man claiming to be Fester also goes by the name of Gordon when the Addamses aren’t around. Unbeknownst to them, the dolt is also in league with the con artist Abigail Craven, a woman who has set her sights on the family’s wealth and poses as Fester’s psychiatrist. She also happens to be the woman whom Gordon calls “Mother,” though Gordon begins to question where his loyalties lie after finding himself taken by the oddball family. Somehow, he just seems to… fit.

The Addams Family movie’s plotting is largely an excuse for a bunch of gags derived from the family’s macabre spin on the ideal nuclear family, in stark contrast to the wholesome, strainingly cheerful families who judge and balk at them. They fear neither, however, and unapologetically revel in their uniqueness, but are also, in many ways, the genuine ideal family. Children Pugsley and Wednesday seem to get along fairly well, despite their games largely consisting of ways of torturing and murdering one another. Grandmama and Gomez hardly take part in the usual antagonistic mother-in-law/son-in-law antics you would normally see in conventional family portrayals. Lurch is a highly valued and dutiful butler, and Thing the loyal and beloved family pet. Most notable, however, is Morticia and Gomez’s undying (… undead?) and rapturous love for one another, taking practically every opportunity to express their passion to one another in poetic (and somewhat graphic) detail. This is a couple who will take their relationship to their graves, and probably beyond. No wonder, then, that Fester’s absence has left such a hole in this close-knit family!

The general lack of a wholly compelling plot is made up for in these characters’ portrayals, and The Addams Family movie is one of those films that just so happens to have cast everyone pretty much perfectly. Raúl Juliá is a blast as the dramatic and eccentric Gomez, and Christopher Lloyd enjoyably nuts as the nervous Gordon/Fester, but it’s Anjelica Huston and Christina Ricci who truly steal the spotlight as the sleek and chilling Morticia and morbid Wednesday Addams. Huston was nominated for a Golden Globe both times she played the character, and not only does she physically inhabit the role (and that freaky dress), she delivers all the humor without irony, making it all the more delightful. Ricci, meanwhile, shows a preternatural capability for unhinged, stone-faced, dark humor for her age, hinting at a promising career that also lead to an expanded role in the zanier sequel.

Ultimately, I do prefer the sequel, Addams Family Values, thanks to that film’s leaning harder into the macabre and also adds the wonderful Joan Cusack to the cast, but there’s no denying the charms of this first film. The set design, the energetic cast, and the humor are all come together nicely, and both films are ultimately essential viewing if you’ve ever been in the mood for a Halloween-appropriate dark comedy that the whole family can ultimately still enjoy together.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 3.5 / 5

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