Black sheep. There seems to be one or two in every family: dysfunctional relatives who, no matter how much they try, seem destined to leave a path of screwed up situations and bruised feelings in their wake (you might even be having Thanksgiving dinner with one very soon!).
The latest cinematic black sheep can be seen in the highly anticipated new comedy-drama, Silver Linings Playbook. Written and directed by David O. Russell (The Fighter), the movie revolves around Pat (Bradley Cooper), a former teacher who moves back in with his parents after a stint in a mental institution.
Pat is desperate to reconcile with his ex-wife (whose affair with another man lead to Pat’s mental breakdown), but things get more complicated when he finds a kindred spirit in Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious young woman who has some problems of her own. Co-starring Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker (in his first non-Rush Hour movie in 15 years), Silver Linings Playbook has already been showered with praise (it won the prestigious People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in September) and is generating serious Oscar buzz.
The movie opens November 16, but, before you see Silver Linings Playbook, check out our list of some of the “baa”dest black sheep in cinema history.
directed by George A. Romero
Martin, the first black sheep on our list, is easily the strangest. One of the most underrated horror films of all time (writer-director Romero has said himself it’s his personal favorite of his work), Martin is a modern vampire tale, set in a deteriorating Pennsylvania town. The title character (played by John Amplas) is a troubled, disaffected 17-year-old who believes, based on a family legend, that he’s an 84-year-old vampire. Yet Martin doesn’t behave like a typical vampire: He’s immune to garlic and sunlight, and instead of fangs, uses razor blades to drink his victims’ blood. After going to live with his elderly uncle, who strongly believes in the family vampire myth, Martin attempts to live a normal life, but his craving for blood continues to haunt him. Martin is a disturbing, utterly original take on the vampire mythos. Although there are a few creepy, violent scenes to keep horror fans satisfied, the movie is most compelling when we gain insight into the main character. Romero seems to be saying that the suave, seductive vampires we’ve seen in movies, as played by Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, are of a past generation. The modern vampire works on a much more realistic, practical, horrifying level; even your oddball relative could be one!
Uncle Buck (1989)
directed by John Hughes
One of Hughes’ last directorial efforts, Uncle Buck stars John Candy as the likable oaf of the title, who comes to babysit for his sister-in-law’s children after her father has suffered a heart attack. While Buck, an unemployed bachelor, may need to learn a few things about daily life (like, for instance, how to use a washing machine), he’s got a good heart and proves to be the kind of funny, dependable guy anyone would be happy to have in their family.
directed by Paul Flaherty
This unintentionally creepy comedy stars Martin Short as 10-year-old Clifford, a seriously odd, destructive kid whose parents force him to stay with his Uncle Martin (Charles Grodin) while they take a trip to Hawaii. While Clifford initially comes off as sweet and good-natured, his dark side shines through when Martin refuses to take him to Dinosaur World, Clifford’s cherished amusement park. With its mean-spirited, surprisingly dark sense of humor (especially considering the film was geared toward kids) and the bizarre sight of a 40-something Martin Short playing a child, Clifford must be seen to be believed. If it wasn’t set up as comedy, the subject matter of Clifford could have easily made for a chilling horror movie, along the lines of The Omen. Perhaps Roger Ebert (who awarded Clifford a half-star out of a possible four) summed up this inexplicable movie best by writing, “The movie is so odd, it’s almost worth seeing just because we’ll never see anything like it again. I hope.”
You Can Count On Me (2000)
directed by Kenneth Lonergan
This acutely observed drama stars Laura Linney (in an Oscar-nominated role) as Sammy, a single mother who has spent all her life living in the same small town. Her estranged, directionless younger brother, Terry (Mark Ruffalo), who spends his time drifting from place to place and getting into trouble, comes to stay with her. Though Sammy initially sees Terry as a screw-up, the two siblings, through a series of rough events, manage to repair their relationship and re-discover the strong bond they have. Terry also develops a touching friendship with Sammy’s young son, Rudy (Rory Culkin). With its naturalistic performances and superb, multifaceted script by writer-director Lonergan, You Can Count On Me is a contemporary classic about the importance of family.
directed by Spike Jonze
In Charlie Kaufman’s deliriously surreal tale (in which the screenwriter attempts to adapt Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief), Nicolas Cage stars as both Charlie and his unemployed twin brother, Donald, who is living with Charlie and aspires to be a screenwriter himself. While Donald is less talented and more inclined to follow formulaic script ideas than his brother, he is also endearing in an enthusiastic, innocent way. Portraying the two wildly different brothers (with nary any vocal or physical difference), Cage delivers two bravura performances and garnered a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his work.
Rachel Getting Married (2008)
directed by Jonathan Demme
This painful drama revolves not around bride-to-be Rachel, but her younger sister Kym (Anne Hathaway), a recovering drug addict. Kym is released from rehab to attend her big sister’s wedding, where old family wounds are brought to the surface. Anchored by Hathaway’s unforgettable performance as the deeply troubled, guilt-ridden Kym, Rachel Getting Married succeeds in making the viewer feel they are part of this dysfunctional clan—for better and for worse.
Our Idiot Brother (2011)
directed by Jesse Peretz
This underrated comedy features a stellar cast—including Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Adam Scott and Steve Coogan—but it’s Paul Rudd’s deft performance as Ned, the “idiot brother” of the title, that makes the movie work. Ned is a naïve, idealistic hippie who, after being released from jail for selling marijuana, proceeds to disrupt the lives of his three sisters. Though the troublesome Ned could have, in lesser hands, been an annoying caricature, Rudd imbues him with real warmth and makes his sunny view of humanity—one that his cynical sisters can’t quite wrap their heads around—infectious.
Have a favorite black sheep of cinema that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments.
Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company.