It Runs in the Family
The Grombergs need to face the fact that they're not going to be named "Family of the Year" anytime soon. Alex Gromberg, husband to Rebecca and father of 21-year-old Asher and 11-year-old Eli, is a workaholic lawyer who's been toying with the idea of having an affair. Asher is whiling away his days at college with liquor, pot and casual sex, Eli has retreated into emotional detachment and Rebecca is simply struggling to hold together her composure, not to mention her household. Then, after the family patriarch, octogenarian Mitchell Gromberg, and his wife Evelyn stop by to celebrate Passover, the floorboards really start to creak. Asher flunks out of a year of college. Mitchell's and Evelyn's health fades. Rebecca discovers a pair of lacy panties in Alex's overcoat pocket. Will the fractious Grombergs be able to transcend their troubles or will the clan collapse under the growing strain of life?
positive elements: The message It Runs in the Family most forcefully delivers is that one ought never give up on his family, no matter how difficult the circumstances. The Grombergs are an awful mess, it's true. But director Fred Schepisi uses the (ultimately) healthy ways these flawed people react to one another to instruct his audience in perseverance. When Eli withdraws from his mother and father, they try to coax him out of his shell by assuring him that he can tell them anything he wants. A friend later informs Eli that he's lucky to have parents who care so deeply about him. When Alex is sorely tempted to commit adultery by an attractive woman, he reminds his temptress that he's married and that "guilt is stronger than lust." When Rebecca finds sexy underwear in Alex's coat, she listens to his side of the story (albeit with a measure of anger). After he admits that he had wanted to sleep with the seductress, she tells him they need counseling instead of simply abandoning the marriage. Alex chastises Mitchell for his sharp tongue during a heart-to-heart talk, yet maintains that he loves the old man. Mitchell pledges his affection for his son as well, admitting that he hasn't always been good at vocalizing his care. Other positive elements include the beauty of lifelong marital love, the virtue of focusing on a person's good qualities, and the necessity of making considerate gestures in marriage, spending time with one's children and being considerate even when others make unreasonable demands.
[Spoiler Warning] Asher reaches a turning point when he's arrested for growing marijuana. Although a legal quirk saves him from jail time, this brush with the law costs him a dear relationship and causes him to realize that he's wasted much of his life. When Evelyn and a demented uncle both suddenly die, the family gathers around Mitchell to comfort him.
spiritual content: A doctor tells Mitchell that even though he has suffered a stroke, he still "has a few good years left" to his life. Mitchell proceeds to point to the ceiling and ask, "Do you talk to the Man up there?" The whole family celebrates Passover and during the seder Mitchell praises "the Lord, our God, king of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine." Mitchell states that true religion is summed up in one phrase: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." He laments that he doesn't practice what he preaches.
sexual content: A pair of junior high students make a sculpture of two breasts during art class. Later they and Eli ogle a porn magazine and make crude comments about sexual positions (afterward a confused Eli asks his mom about them). A gangbanger crassly states that he's about to rupture from unfulfilled longing. A woman at a soup kitchen where Alex volunteers tries to seduce him and nearly succeeds. The two passionately kiss and Alex manages to pull his pants off before being interrupted by a patron. When she approaches him again, he turns her down flat. The way Asher sleeps around one can guess that if he's not a walking petri dish yet, he'll be one soon. After getting smashed at a party, he hooks up with a scantily clad coed. At one point she has to remind him of her name and a later scene shows them asleep and intertwined in bed (no explicit nudity). He and another squeeze named Peg begin stripping off each others' clothes in a moment of passion. Audiences see her in a g-string and she almost manages to pull off Asher's boxers before he interrupts the foreplay, stating that he doesn't "want to rush it." Peg cavorts in her underwear. Asher uses vulgar slang while discussing women with Eli.
violent content: Gang members pull knives on Eli and tell him to deliver a message to a former runaway in his class. Mitchell teaches the boy how to fend off an attacker and he uses the lesson to good effect when he is assaulted. After Asher causes a public disturbance by loudly blasting music from his apartment, police storm the room and, seeing drug paraphernalia, roughly handcuff and frisk him.
crude or profane language: Over 20 uses of the s-word and about 30 other milder profanities. God and Jesus' names are abused regularly (about 25 times). Crude terms are assigned to sex acts and genitalia. Racial slurs are used to denote Jews and Germans.
drug and alcohol content: Fish have nothing on the Grombergs. They load up on alcohol whenever it's socially acceptable (and often when it's not). After nearly committing adultery, Alex downs shots of hard liquor. Asher is a stoner who uses and deals pot. Mitchell gripes about the quality of the Passover wine. He later boasts of selling booze that fell off the back of a truck when he was a kid. Asher and others gulp down whiskey. One of Eli's classmates smokes a cigarette.
other negative elements: A mentally ill uncle disturbs the Grombergs' dinner by loudly breaking wind. Asher vomits into a trash can after being violently fouled during a basketball game. Eli runs away from a school function with a rebellious female classmate, a move that later puts him in physical danger. Asher lies to hide the details of his profligate lifestyle from his parents.
conclusion:"My goal was to portray [the Gromberg] family in a realistic light—one that is unforgiving, but one in which you sense the love and connection beneath it all," says screenwriter Jesse Wigutow. Although calling his work "realistic" might be a bit too generous, he accomplished his goal to a degree. The incessantly bickering Grombergs come across like a less cartoonish version of Everybody Loves Raymond's Barone clan. Yet beneath their animosity lies a sense of commitment so strong it's almost tangible. Instead of going their separate ways when drug charges, death and allegations of an affair loom large, everyone pulls together, strengthened by Alex's pledge that "we're a family and we're going to figure it out together." It's a sentiment our ease-addicted culture needs to internalize. Moviegoers might be willing to forgive the film's glacial pacing and disposal of a strong plot in order to receive such a message. Unfortunately, good themes—and good performances by Kirk and Michael Douglas—aren't the whole package. Constant profanity, alcohol abuse, sexual slang and a permissive attitude toward premarital intimacy also run in this family. Significant content issues that should make your family think twice.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Michael Douglas as Alex Gromberg; Bernadette Peters as Rebecca Gromberg; Kirk Douglas as Mitchell Gromberg; Diana Douglas as Evelyn Gromberg; Cameron Douglas as Asher Gromberg; Rory Culkin as Eli Gromberg; Sarita Choudhury as Peg Maloney; Irene Gorovaia as Abbie Staley
Fred Schepisi ( )