(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: A teenager, fed up with her counter-culture family, takes her parents hostage to give them a crash course in traditional family values. The story could have been taken from a 1970s family comedy, but actress Olesya Rulin gives the film a fresh crispness. The film is directed by Benjamin Epps from a screenplay by Matt K. Turner. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Are there limits to personal freedom in a family to keep that family together? Are traditional values necessary to make a family work? These are the questions that screenwriter Matt K. Turner wrestles with in FAMILY WEEKEND.

Pert sixteen-year-old Emily (played by Soviet-Russian-born Olesya Rulin) is from a family that really respects individuality. In fact, everyone is so individual that it seems that they barely even relate to each other. Emily's father (Matthew Modine) has devoted his life to art--the kind that does not pay. Her mother (Kristen Chenoweth) is a successful businesswoman with more time for her work presentations than for her family. Emily has a gay brother who sees himself as an underground filmmaker with the self-selected moniker "Thor". And Joey King playing Lucinda is a younger sister who rather humorously takes on the personalities of familiar film characters.

When nobody in the family has enough interest to attend Emily's playoffs in the state speed-rope-jumping championship, Emily decides to take her own parents hostage, tape them to chairs, and give them a crash course in traditional family values, parental aptitude, and in how to fix a dysfunctional family.

The plot of taking parents hostage could easily have fit a 1970s teen TV movie. Emily has certain ideas of what she thinks her family should be like and of what each person's responsibility is to the family. The interesting reversal here is that what Emily wants is basically a return to "Leave it to Beaver" sort of values. That may be a hard sell in the 21st Century. The screenwriter's dialog is funny and a pleasure to listen to, but it is wholly unconvincing as spontaneous exchange. Of course that is not necessarily a fault if the wordplay is good. The dialog in HAMLET does not sound natural either.

FAMILY WEEKEND is hard to take seriously even when it lapses from comedy into some emotional drama. Here Emily's school adversary Kat (Chloe Bridges) shows unexpected insight. But what makes the film work is Olesya Rulin, best known for the "High School Musical" series, and her nursed-on-Jolt-Cola, energetic performance. Born in Russia, she is a pleasure to watch as an American girl about a decade younger than the actress really is. Even playing against the more familiar actor Modine, she handily holds viewer attention.

One wonders how Emily was born into a family with so many different personality types, but she does seem to have inherited from her mother her motivated drive and a sense of organization. The film opens on her placing post-it stickers all over the house to remind each person of their promise to attend her competition.

In the end it is not clear what this story was saying. Emily finds her strategy wrong as are some of her goals. It is rare but realistic that in the end what she achieves is something of a compromise. But the film is amusing even if its lessons are indistinct. I rate FAMILY WEEKEND a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper