Family ties bind originals

Nommed scripts offer contrasting generational sagas

Family has always been an integral part of American movies, whether a seemingly idyllic family in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or one literally coming apart at the seams in “Ordinary People,” or a cold-blooded crime family in “The Godfather.”

This season the theme of family runs strongly through the Oscar nommed original screenplays, whether it’s the timeless aspects of family or the unique aspects of families in the 21st century.

Almost any tale about the English royals becomes a family saga, and with “The King’s Speech,” David Seidler delves into that quintessentially dysfunctional clan to tell the story of brotherly rivalry and how a duke with a stutter became a king who could speak for a nation.

Speech therapist Lionel Logue, says Seidler, “became the big protective brother that the king wanted and never got from his own family.” Logue finally broke down the walls that years of feelings of inadequacy had put up. “He grew up with an ice queen as a mother and a strict authoritarian as a father who encouraged his older brother to tease him.”

By contrast, Christopher Nolan’s twisty head-trip of a script for “Inception” might seem unmoored from the topic of family. But the entire dream-quest of the story is based on a young heir’s issues with his father, and its hero searching for a way back to the family he lost. The denouement suggests he may only have arrived at another fantasy, but if so it’s a perfect dream of his family reunited at last.

For Mike Leigh family is not so much a dream but a comfortable reality for the happy couple and their adult son at the center of “Another Year.” Even surrounded by lonely people desperate for what they have, they manage to maintain their deep love for each. Family serves as an anchor for those that have it, and those without it seem adrift.

“The Fighter” scribes Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson kept family as a watchword. “We always said that’s what the film had to be about, boxing was just the backdrop,” says Tamasy. “It really is a brother love story but set in this incredible, crazy family,” says Silver.

“All the stuff Micky went through with Dicky’s addiction, these two had to really love each other to get through that,” says Johnson.

Those family bonds are timeless. “It’s that clan mentality,” says Silver, “they fight among themselves, but if anybody else takes them on, you better watch out, they’re all going to come after you.”

For “The Kids Are All Right” Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg mixed contemporary and classic notions of family to mischievous effect.

Says Blumberg, “We came up with this very Ozzy and Harriet type alternative family — bread winner, stay-at-home mom, two kids doing well in school — and used this as a jumping-off point to look at the universal dynamics of family through the prism of this unique one.”

Cholodenko says, “The movie starts from the presumption this is legitimate, these people are integrated into our world, not every gay family has some weird lurching Republican living next door.”

For Blumberg, “The most satisfying thing is when 50-year-old men come up and go, ‘Wow, after 20 minutes I forgot it was two women and just saw them as a couple.’ There is something so primal about it. It’s like that old quote, family is a place where if you have to go there they have to take you in.”

More on Eye on the Oscars: The Writer:
Heroes make their own rules | Family ties bind originals | Tough climb for family scripts | Arndt brought ‘Story’ home