Members of a dysfunctional family come together to support one of their own who's accused of attempted murder in Daddy & Them, an amusing dark comedy written, directed and starring Billy Bob Thornton. With kooky relatives like this, the defendant needs all the help he can get.
Claude (Thornton), nephew of the accused (Jim Varney), and his wife Ruby (Laura Dern) love each other very much, but their jealousy gets the best of them most of the time. They can't stop arguing. Ruby thinks Claude is having an affair with her sister Rose (Kelly Preston); Claude believes Ruby prefers muscle-men and obsesses over his own slight physique. Ruby's mother (Diane Ladd) makes matters worse by constantly bringing up her daughter's old boyfriends.
Uncle Hazel's (Varney) big brother (Andy Griffith) is Claude's forgetful father, a man who thinks his son married Rose, not Ruby, and who ignores his longsuffering wife (Sandra Seacat). Claude's two brothers avoid everyday problems by using escape mechanisms -- one through maintaining an alcoholic stupor, the other by reading everything he can get his hands on.
None of these people communicate with each other. Uncle Hazel's English psychologist wife (Brenda Blethyn) finally explodes about this in a wonderful tirade which starts out as "having a little talk" with them.
Daddy & Them made quite an impression on me. These characters seem so real, thanks to excellent acting by everyone involved and to Thornton's intuitive writing and directing. Although starting out slowly, the film moves along with just the right pace after the entire family gets together. To me, it's a much better flick than The Royal Tenenbaums, another movie about a dysfunctional family, albeit a more sophisticated one. While watching the Tenenbaums, I couldn't help thinking they were far-fetched caricatures, whereas each person in Daddy & Them comes across as genuine. Thornton obviously has a special feeling for people of limited economic and cultural advantages (I hate the terms "redneck" and "white trash") -- and it shines through here in spite of all the problems presented, just as it did in his debut film Sling Blade.
Still, two of the funniest scenes in Thornton's movie show a relatively well-off married couple, the first lawyers hired to defend Uncle Hazel, bickering with each other over how to handle the case. Jamie Lee Curtis and Ben Affleck surprised me with their superb depiction of passive-aggressive behavior. I wanted to see more of them!
What happens to Uncle Hazel? That's not important. What matters is the way his relatives change for the better as a result of coming together to help him.
Daddy & Them, released on a limited basis in 2001, is now available on VHS and DVD. Among the DVD bonus features are five hilarious deleted scenes, commentary with Billy Bob Thornton, and a "Behind the Scenes" special.
(Released by Miramax and rated "R' for strong language.)