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Top Ten Dysfunctional Families on Film

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The Dreamers still
The Dreamers still

To celebrate the release of August: Osage County, we present a list of our favourite dysfunctional families on film

Today marks the release of highly anticipated, black comedy-drama August: Osage County, starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts – both of whom have received Oscar nominations for their performances. Based on Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize–winning play, the film tells the dark, amusing and distinctly moving story of the headstrong women of the Weston family who, reunited by a family crisis, must return to the Midwest house they grew up in, and the maladjusted woman who raised them. And so, to honour the occasion, we've selected our top ten dysfunctional families on film, spanning the disturbing, the desolate and the downright filthy.

1) Pink Flamingos
Renegade director John Waters' cult classic tells the story of underground criminal Divine – AKA Babs Johnson – who lives in a pink trailer in Maryland with her mentally ill, egg-loving mother Edie, delinquent son Crackers, and traveling companion Cotton. When Divine is dubbed "the filthiest person alive" by a tabloid paper, jealous rivals Connie and Raymond Marble embark on an ultimately doomed scheme to destroy her career. A hefty dose of incest, bestiality, drug trafficking and "live homicide" ensue. Needless to say, families don't get much more dysfunctional than this.

2) Dogtooth
That said, Dogtooth gives Pink Flamingos a good run for its money. The film tells the story of a Greek couple who have gone to extreme lengths to "protect " their son and two daughters, now in the early stages of adulthood, from the outside world. The family live in a large compound, from which the children have never been allowed to venture. They are privy only to the "reality" their parents have created for them; a reality where phones don't exist, planes are "just toys", and everyday words have different meanings (a chair is called a "sea"). The masochistic outcome is deeply disturbing and darkly funny in equal measure.

3) The Dreamers
Based on the novel The Holy Innocents by Gilbert Adair, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers tells the tale of American student Matthew, who meets and falls under the spell of beautiful twins Théo and Isabelle while studying in Paris. Bonded by an obsessive love of film, the trio grow ever-closer within the sumptuous confines of the twins' parents' apartment. What follows is a heady series of highs and lows as the viewer, like Matthew, is sucked into Théo and Isabelle's world, punctuated though it may be with disturbing allusions to their more-than-familial relationship.

4) The Squid and the Whale
Noah Baumbach's semi-autobiographical work details the lives of two young brothers struggling to deal with their parents' divorce in 1980s Brooklyn. A more subtle example of familial discord, the film is extremely poignant – both funny and sad in its mocking of intellectual pretentions and highlighting of innate human selfishness and the shattering of childhood illusions.

5) The Addams Family
A timeless favourite as far as unconventional families go, Gomez, Morticia, Pugsley, Wednesday and Fester Addams burst onto the scene in all their ghoulish, gory glory in 1991. With a maundering hand for a butler, what is essentially a walking wig for a cousin and the family motto, sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc (we gladly feast on those who would subdue us) – "not just pretty words," Morticia warns – The Addams Family, while being far from functional, is surprisingly heartwarming in its warped family values.

6) Grey Gardens
Mother and daughter duo, Big Edie and Little Edi, were cast into the public spotlight in 1976 by documentary makers Albert and David Maysles and their now iconic film Grey Gardens. A record of the reclusive socialites' eccentric lifestyle – cooped up in a dilapidated mansion in East Hampton, surrounded by cats – the compelling documentary is punctuated with jealous spats, sporadic bouts of singing and Big Edie's frequent jibes at Little Edie for her failure to have married a Kennedy.

7) The Virgin Suicides
Sofia Coppola's haunting interpretation of Jeffrey Eugenides' accomplished debut novel offers an engulfing insight into the lives of Ronald and Sara Lisbon and their five teenage daughters. When Cecilia, the youngest commits suicide, Ronald and Sara – overprotective, authoritarian and deeply religious – impose a set of darkly oppressive rules upon their remaining children. All this is conveyed through the eyes of a group of teenage boys who become increasingly obsessed with the beautiful ingénues and the deepening mystery that shrouds them.

8) Stoker
Park Chan-wook's psychological thriller sees the lives of mother and daughter Evelyn and India Stoker – played by Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska – turned upside-down as Evelyn's husband Richard dies in a mysterious car crash and his (previously unmentioned) brother Charlie arrives on the scene. Evelyn is instantly seduced by Charlie's charm, while India is mistrustful. Murder, filial hatred and warped sexual awakenings ensue.

9) The Sound of Music
What with Rodgers & Hammerstein's brilliantly uplifting score and the lashings of laughter, dancing and blueberries, it is easy to forget that the Sound of Music's Von Trapp family was in pretty dire straits before the spirited young nun Maria joined their ranks. After the death of his beloved wife, Captain Von Trapp enforces a strict, militaristic regime on his seven children, involving whistles, uniforms and no music. But things begin to change upon the arrival of the very musical Maria as the children's new nanny and life becomes a lot more colourful for all involved.

10) Flowers in the Attic
Another tale of parental oppression with more than a sprinkling of incest, Flowers in the Attic is a strong contender for the most dysfunctional family award. It follows the lives of four children – teenagers Chris and Cathy and 5-year-old twins Cory and Carrie – whose father's death forces their mother to relocate the family to live with her estranged, very wealthy parents. Banished to the attic from the get-go, things go from bad to worse as family secrets are violently revealed – and later repeated a generation on.

August: Osage County is in cinemas nationwide from today

Text by Daisy Woodward

Daisy Woodward is the AnOthermag.com social media and editorial assistant.

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