Review: ‘An Ordinary Family’

A strained-reunion seriocomedy that doesn't bring much depth or insight to its examination of the age-old clash between religion and homosexuality.

A conservative Christian minister welcomes back his long-absent gay brother with less than open arms in “An Ordinary Family,” a strained-reunion seriocomedy that doesn’t bring much depth or insight to its examination of the age-old clash between religion and homosexuality. Well-meaning pic tries hard to extend understanding to its principals, but apart from some relatable moments of familial awkwardness, it’s a tidy and rather mealy-mouthed look at values in conflict, played in a slickly watchable indie register. Further fest bookings and some theatrical exposure seem likely.

The Biederman family’s annual weeklong reunion has just begun when prodigal son Seth (Greg Wise) turns up with wisecracking boyfriend William (Chad Anthony Miller) in tow, to the ill-disguised chagrin of Seth’s older brother, Thomas (Troy Schremmer), a straight-laced pastor and family man. Unable to accept his brother’s sexuality or his decision to leave the parish they used to serve in together, Thomas stews and argues with his more progressive wife, Mattie (Janelle Schremmer), who urges him to make things right with Seth.

Helmer Mike Akel dilutes the tension somewhat with occasional cutaways to the boys’ meek sister, Sharon (Megan Minto), and her plus-sized husband, Chris (Steven Schaefer), who provides clunky comic relief and, later, some nicely understated drama involving the subtle cracks in his own marriage. Chris bonds unexpectedly with William, who admits his outsized personality is an “acquired taste.”

Following 2006’s “Chalk,” his engaging mockumentary about a year in the lives of four schoolteachers, helmer Mike Akel (who produced and co-wrote with Matt Patterson) takes a relatively direct approach to more sensitive subject matter here. But despite the attempts at handheld naturalism, a naggingly scripted feel persists in the dialogue and situations, many of which seem conveniently engineered to yield moments of reckoning and reconciliation at just the right time.

The script does extend Thomas a measure of grace without writing him off as a closed-minded homophobe, though like most films addressing religious dogma from an outsider’s perspective, “An Ordinary Family” doesn’t engage with matters of faith in more than cursory fashion. Apart from one moment that attempts to pick through the remnants of Seth’s spirituality, church, as depicted here, exists mainly as a place where people can go, sing hymns and enjoy a blandly feel-good respite from the pressures of real life.

Elsewhere, the pic relies too heavily on upbeat, aggressively overscored family-bonding montages, particularly in slideshow-style sequences of everyone splashing about in the house pool. Living-room talent-show scenes that remind one of “Dan in Real Life” are cringe-inducing enough to make nonstop bickering seem preferable by comparison.

The fine cast is well anchored by real-life husband and wife Troy and Janelle Schremmer (both of whom appeared in “Chalk”), providing a believably tetchy sense of marital give-and-take. The filmmakers’ affection for their characters comes through loud and clear, but that good will is also tied to a fundamental complacency that keeps this drama from being as tough and trenchant as it could be. Low-budget tech credits are solid.

An Ordinary Family


A Matter Media presentation. Produced by Matt Patterson, Mike Akel. Executive producers, Karen Markham, Steve Markham, Jeffrey Travis. Directed by Mike Akel. Screenplay, Akel, Matt Patterson.


Camera (color), David Blue Garcia; editor, David Fabelo; music, Evan Jacobs; music supervisor, Ryan Greene; production designer, Stephen Fay; sound, Greg Armstrong; re-recording mixer, Chris Keyland; line producer, Michael Kistner; assistant director, Melissa Dalley. Reviewed at Screen Actors Guild Foundation screening room, Los Angeles, June 9, 2011. (In Los Angeles Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 92 MIN.


With: Troy Schremmer, Greg Wise, Janelle Schremmer, Chad Anthony Miller, Steven Schaefer, Megan Minto, Laurie Coker, Huck Schremmer, Rachel Wise, Shannon Haragan.

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