When they are children, small quarrels between siblings are the order of the day, and it is often up to the parents to mediate. As they get older and grow up, the dynamic between siblings changes, but unresolved disagreements and resentments can still linger, and they can’t always rely on their parents to keep the peace like they used to. Persistent conflict is a prevalent theme in family drama films, especially sibling comedy drama films where it can be a source of suspense and humor. Eventually this comes to a head and it takes some acknowledgment of shortcomings and recognition of an underlying unconditional love, mutual respect and the importance of family ties to clear things up.
While it might not be as easy or quick to sort out sibling discord in real life as a 90-minute movie, these feel-good sibling comedy-dramas are worth watching together, if not for the ice-breaker and the first step toward a beginning to do difficult dialogue, then just laugh heartily.
“The Family Stone” (2005)
In this classic festive comedy-drama from Thomas Bezucha (last from let him go), Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) decides to meet his uptight and conservative new girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker), to his liberal and free-spirited family Christmas at home in Connecticut. Meredith struggles to adjust, and any attempt to identify with the Stones becomes a complete and utter failure and increasing hostility. Misunderstandings between sisters Meredith and Julie (Claire Danes), who has come to break the tension, and between brothers Everett and Ben (Luke Wilson) lead to a showdown of shouting, food fights and wrestling on the kitchen floor.
Everett and Ben clash over Ben’s growing fondness for Meredith, although Everett has developed a fondness for Julie himself. They fight because Everett won’t admit that he and Meredith aren’t heavenly partners and that she was more of a desperate bid to find a mate than his mother and family matriarch, Sybil (Diana Keaton), would agree and be reassured before she gets sicker (since she has advanced breast cancer). The underlying love that the family has for each other, especially the Stone siblings, is very touching, especially given the great loss. Despite their youthful antics throughout the film, their strong bond is evident by the end.
“The Savages” (2007)
The late big one Philip Seymour Hoffman Stars as Jon Savage, next to it Laura Linney as his sister Wendy Savage, family drama writer/director, Tamara Jenkin‘s (private life, Beverly Hills slums) Oscar-nominated film, The wild. Touching on a topic familiar to grown children of ill parents, estranged siblings Jon and Wendy must decide whether to keep their equally estranged father, Lenny (Philip Bosco), in a nursing home, when his longtime girlfriend dies and he is obviously suffering from progressive dementia.
Jon and Wendy share a love of writing, but also the scars of childhood abuse from their father. Facing each other after a long absence proves difficult in that they both reconsider their past pain after trying to put it behind them. The cause of this pain is someone to whom they still feel an obligation, although they continue to cause grief to both of them. Her father’s crazy antics and the absurdity of her sudden reality make for laughs. As they work together to give him a new home, the siblings come to understand each other and find mutual respect and healing in a broken relationship that was never through their own fault.
“Our Idiot Brother” (2011)
Jess Perez (The shrink next door, GLOW), directs this comedy-drama Paul Rudd as the titular brother Ned in Our idiot brother. When carefree Ned, an organic vegetable farmer, is caught by the police selling weed and sent to jail, he ends up destroying the homes of his three sisters, Liz (Emily Mortimer), Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel).
Ned’s wacky behavior, so different from his much more conventional sisters, is the main source of humor in the film and the source of conflict between the siblings. However, his openness and honesty reveal the cracks in his sisters’ romantic relationships that would otherwise have been ignored, and they recognize and appreciate that he simply wants them to remain happy and true to themselves.
“Your Sister’s Sister” (2011)
From the acclaimed and revered writer and director, Lynn Shelton (Little fires everywhere), who unfortunately passed away in 2020, comes the indie darling, Your sister’s sister. If iris (Emily Stump) invites her longtime boyfriend/potential love interest Jack (Markus Duplass), being alone, in her family’s cottage after his brother died, Jack is surprised, Iris’ sister Hannah (Rosemary DeWitt) to drown their own sorrows there after a relationship crisis. Things get complicated when Iris shows up the next morning.
The awkwardness between the three makes for an equally awkward giggle. Again, the film’s plot is yet another instance of true feelings being denied and spontaneous, ill-conceived acts and misunderstandings standing in the way of a harmonious relationship between siblings. However, once the pain is cleared and the truth comes out, Iris and Hannah understand that neither is angry with the other and that they both want the other to be happy.
‘Adult Beginners’ (2014)
Comedian, Nick Kroll (Big mouth), plays Jake in this funny and heartfelt film about a tech entrepreneur who reconnects with his estranged and pregnant sister Justine (Rose Byrn), her husband Danny (Bobby Cannavale) and young nephew Teddy (Matthew Paddock and Caleb Paddock) after his business collapses on the eve of launch and he loses everything. Jake becomes his nephew’s “manny” (male nanny) and begins to appreciate what he’s been missing out on in life.
Jake’s new lifestyle leads to many humorous encounters and situations. It’s clear that his and Justine’s relationship had gotten rocky with Jake’s sole focus on his financial success, but it’s also apparent that Justine is ignoring the issues in their marriage and not acknowledging her self-worth. When the two get back together, they both realize where things have become lacking in their lives and how much they care about and become dependent on each other.
“The Skeleton Twins” (2014)
SNL alums Bill Hader and Kristen Wig Star in this moving portrayal of two estranged but once-close siblings, each coping with trauma and making an unsuccessful decision to end their lives. When Maggie (Wiig) learns of her brother Milos’ (Hader) attempted suicide, she stops her own and rushes to the hospital to be by his side. Another unlucky brother moves in with his sister and her husband, Lance (Luke Wilson), but together they must face some hard truths.
Despite their underlying trauma, both share an enduring affinity and many moments of joy that not only ease their pain, but also help them heal and deal with what they have lost. It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating: Hader and Wiig pull off some eloquent performances that handle both comedy and drama. Siblings will certainly relate to the different facets of their relationship, showing how the bond between brothers and sisters isn’t always perfect, but is always worth the fight.
“Here I Leave You” (2014)
You may have missed this quiet gem of a director, Shawn Levy (stranger things, The Adam Project) when it was published, but it deserves a look. When their father dies, estranged siblings, Judd (Jason Bateman), Wendy (Tina Fey), Paul (Corey Stoll) and Philip (Adam driver) are reunited to sit Shiva in her childhood home and face deep-rooted resentments.
Driver excels at bringing unexpected comic relief to an otherwise difficult and serious time in the Altman siblings’ lives. The ending of their estrangement and forced coming together eventually bring a catharsis from their shared and troubled past and a newfound love and respect for one another.
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