Streaming Spotlight: family time

Kith and kin who stick together through thick and thin

by Jennie Kermode

Saturday 15 May is International Day of the Family so we’ve decided to turn our Streaming Spotlight on films about families of all shapes and sizes. Not all of them are child friendly or even focused on children, but they remind us of what family means and how, for many people, it’s something that can be relied upon no matter what. These families face more challenges than most but they’re all worth fighting for.

Any Day Now
Any Day Now

Any Day Now - Chili, Amazon, Apple TV

Travis Fine's touching and heartfelt drama stars Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt as a newly established gay couple who try to give disadvantaged Down's syndrome teenager Marco (Isaac Leyva) the loving family that he has never had. In doing so, they face the institutionalised racism of Seventies America, a situation fraught with prejudice and injustice. Cumming has rarely been better than here, bringing a raw emotion to his rebellious drag queen, and he is matched step for step by Leyva in his debut, while the pair of them bounce perfectly off Dillahunt's more restrained performance. By turns funny and poignant, Fine offers a satisfying emotional pay-off without it feeling overly manipulative.

The Farewell
The Farewell

The Farewell - Amazon Prime, Google Play

Sometimes families themselves can be manipulative – albeit with the best of intentions. Grandmother Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) is dying, but her Chinese American relatives have decided not to let her know, preferring to let her live out her last few days without such worry. They do want to see her, however, so in order to provide an excuse for getting everyone together, they decide to throw a wedding. Awkwafina won a Golden Globe for her performance as Billi, the headstrong young woman who disagrees with this approach. Cultures and cousins clash in a family where tradition still holds powerful sway and everything has to be done a certain way, whilst problem solving generally involves food. Whilst the details may be specific, most viewers will find the dynamic familiar, and the film never gets too serious, finding comedy and warmth at the most surprising times.

Raising Arizona
Raising Arizona

Raising Arizona - Chili, Rakuten TV, Amazon

When starting a family is difficult, it just doesn’t seem fair that other people can produce babies in abundance. At least, that’s how it seems to ex-con HI (Nicolas Cage), which is why he kidnaps one of a famous set of quintuplets to raise with his devoted but no-nonsense wife Edwina (Holly Hunter). Only the Coen brothers could make a film about child kidnapping this charming, but it’s far from plain sailing for the erstwhile new family, as not only are the police trying to solve the crime but the baby’s father has set a sinister leather-clad biker bounty hunter on their tail. Hijinks ensue as HI wrestles with his conscience and the temptation to return to his old ways; and as all new parents eventually discover, even the best laid plans are never wholly childproof.

A Quiet Place
A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place - Chili, Amazon, Google Play

Raising one child is tough enough under ordinary circumstances, but what if you’re trying to raise three whilst living in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by man-eating monsters? John Krasinski’s science fiction thriller sees an ordinary family trying to get by in extraordinary circumstances, keeping as quiet as they can in order to avoid detection. They have one advantage that is presumably what saved them when others around them died: their daughter is Deaf, so they already knew how to communicate without making a sound. Millicent Simmonds, who is Deaf herself, is a standout in the role, lending the film a weight which keeps it grounded despite the fantastic premise. As ordinary tensions threaten their unity, the different family members must work together just to survive, especially as they face the seemingly impossible challenge of mum Evelyn (Emily Blunt) giving birth.

Mudbound
Mudbound

Mudbound - Netflix

In America’s Deep South, family is inextricably bound up with race. Dee Rees’ powerful drama explores the interactions between two families – one black and one white – in the aftermath of the Second World War. With economic disparity overwhelming despite the end of slavery, the mother of one family is forced to leave her children behind to go and care for the children of the other, whilst two grown sons returning from the trenches of Europe struggle with reactions to their now largely equitable friendship in the land where they grew up. Shot in the tones of the mud that seems to slow everything down whilst other places make progress, the film looks at the gulf in generational perspectives and at the particular difficulty which some of the white characters have in recognising reality and developing the confidence to take on real familial responsibilities for themselves.

Despicable Me
Despicable Me

Despicable Me - Amazon Prime, Netflix

Amber Wilkinson writes: Families don't get much more accidental than the one that antihero Gru (voiced by Steven Carrell) suddenly finds himself in the middle of. He's mostly concerned with steering his Minions to their next heist and fending off the new baddie on the block Vector (voiced by Jason Segel). Things get complicated when the three orphan girls Gru hopes will help in his latest heist turn his life upside down. The arc for adults - about Gru learning to be a dad - is sweet and well worked, affirming the importance of good parenting, no matter who is doing it, although the main draw more generally is the Looney Tunes sensibility of the animation, with the minions' inventive hijinks going on to earn them their own spin-off spotlight.

A Deal With The Universe
A Deal With The Universe

A Deal With The Universe - BFI Player, Amazon

The idea of trans men getting pregnant confuses a lot of people in a society which struggles more generally to reconcile masculinity and the desire to be a parent. Jason Barker’s documentary has proven to be a lightbulb moment for many viewers, restoring what is sometimes seen as a political issue to its human context. It follows him and his partner Tracey over 15 years as she struggles to conceive, trying every available treatment, until he steps in and decides to give it a go himself. Not originally intended to reach such a big audience, the footage looks pretty rough, but this only adds to the sense of intimacy and honesty that it creates. Everybody will find something to relate to in a film which celebrates the importance of community and reminds us what family is worth.

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