Have you ever seen a family on Instagram or Facebook that just looks too good to be true? All smiles, all laughs, not a single thing out of place?
The Duboises are that family. Martin is a successful businessman; his wife, Marie, does yoga to maintain her perfect figure; his teenage daughter, Rose (from a previous marriage), makes straight As while excelling on the hockey team; his and Marie’s five-year-old son, Mathis, is as adorable as adorable can be.
At least, that’s what you’d see if you scrolled through Marie’s Instagram page. In reality, it’s a bit more complicated.
Social media doesn’t show that Rose is cheating in school to get better grades while taking pills to cope with her father’s intense pressure. It doesn’t show that Mathis is incredibly spoiled, throwing bowls and plates at his parents when he doesn’t get his way. It doesn’t show that Marie is struggling to deal with the pressure of raising a young son and a stepdaughter while being a perfect housewife for her husband, or that the family can barely get through a board game without somebody exploding out of frustration.
No, you wouldn’t find any of the Duboises’ real struggles on social media—and as Martin discovers, he’s almost as oblivious to them as Marie’s Instagram followers. He has no idea that his constant pressure on Rose is affecting her mentally, or that his wife is just trying to keep her head above water. “I don’t know who I am anymore or what I’m worth,” she tells him in tears.
Not a very catchy Instagram caption.
The Guide to the Perfect Family is a Canadian, French-language film (with English subtitles for American Netflix viewers) that follows Martin’s struggle to pull his family back together while juggling his job, his ex-wife and the realization that his daughter isn’t as perfect as he thought she was.
Raising a family has never been easy, but Martin is about to discover the all-new challenges that come with raising one in the digital age.
After realizing the negative effect his intense pressure is having on Rose, Martin makes several efforts to spend quality time with her, with varying levels of success. He really does want what’s best for her; he wants her to get good grades so she can get into a good school and have a successful career. But he loves her and wants her to be emotionally balanced, too—something Martin has difficulty showing sometimes.
Martin comes to the realization that worth and value are not defined by success. He tells a coworker that it’s OK not to excel at absolutely everything you do, and that placing too much emphasis on tangible achievement can be unhealthy. “He’ll be an average person with an average career,” Martin tells him, referring to the coworker’s son. “And that’s fine.”
Marie takes Mathis to a yoga/anger management class where the instructor tells them to channel their “negative energy” into a piece of paper and crumple it up before throwing it away.
Marie attempts to get Martin to sleep with her before they go to bed; he initally rebuffs her advances, but a sex toy and exagerated sexual noises change his mind. A sexual encounter begins, including graphic noises and explicit dialogue. But the couple is interrupted with when Mathis comes into the room.
Mathis streaks across the lawn, and we briefly glipse part of his anatomy. Marie wears tight-fitting leggings and a sports bra to her yoga class, and Martin’s ex-wife Caroline wears a shirt that reveals her midriff. Caroline also asks her daughter, Rose, if she’s slept with her English tutor; she constantly encourages Rose to flirt with boys and wear more revealing clothes. She takes Rose to a bar and dances suggestively with her date.
Verbal references are made to genitalia, Tinder and virginity. A mother asks a schoolteacher if their school has any “trans students.”
None, other than Mathis throwing various items at his family members.
Characters use the f-word 10 times and the s-word 12 times. Other vulgarities include “d–n,” a–” and “d–k.” God’s name is misused 14 times. Mathis also sometimes hears Martin using “Christ” as an expletive and repeats it after him.
(It should be noted that the film’s original language is French, so unless the viewer watches it dubbed over with English audio, the profanity will appear in subtitles rather than heard in English.)
Wine is served at almost every meal, appearing multiple times throughout the film. Martin knocks down beer a few times with his father and brother. Patrons imbibe various cocktails at a bar. Pierre-Luc, one of Martin’s employees, posts a picture of himself while drunk; his coworkers laugh and say he’s “wasted.” It’s not just the adults who indulge in drinking, however. Sixteen-year-old Rose drinks a cocktail at a bar, with her mother’s full approval. She later drinks from a bottle of wine in bed.
Drug use is a pillar of the film’s plot. Rose is caught hiding THC candies and various pills, including sleeping medication she stole from Martin, in her locker. Her therapist tells Martin that Rose has also been using cannabis to help her anxiety. Both Martin’s brother and one of his coworkers discuss their children’s issues with smoking marijuana. His brother says he doesn’t mind it, preferring that his son smoke in the house under supervision than somewhere else that might not be as safe.
[Spoiler Warning] After finding out that she failed one of her exams, Rose attempts suicide by overdosing on her mother’s pills.
Mathis is incredibly spoiled by Marie, causing him to act disrespectfully without many consequences. He throws food across the room when he doesn’t want it, yells at his mother, and pelts his family members with various objects. Rose, though older, doesn’t treat her parents much better. She’s constantly snarky and yells at them when being disciplined.
Though it doesn’t excuse her behavior, part of Rose’s strong reactions to her parents—particularly Martin, her father—is due to how she’s treated. Martin pushes her incredibly hard, putting more emphasis on her performance in her academics and in sports than on her mental health. This causes her to develop a strong case of performance anxiety, and it leads to a rift in their relationship.
Not only that, but Rose begins cheating in school by buying tests from previous years from older students. She also sneaks out of the house to attend parties instead of doing her homework.
Rose’s mother, Caroline, doesn’t provide an excellent example for her daughter. Caroline allows Rose to drink underage and asks her teasingly if she’s sexually active. Caroline flirts and dances suggestively with random men in front of her, even leaving Rose home alone while she goes home with her date.
One of Marie’s pregnant friends tells her that she’s flying to Atlanta for a “gender selection,” in which she’ll have the ability to choose the sex of her baby.
The filmmakers behind The Guide to the Perfect Family would likely describe this story as a satire of the modern family. While in some ways that’s true, the film delves much deeper than you might expect for a traditional comedy. It’s the rare kind of film that can extract tears both from laughter and from heartbreak.
It’s also a story incredibly applicable to our current times, providing a sort of mirror to topics that might remain unaddressed—academic pressure on teenagers, body dysphoria in young women, and more. It’s encouraging to see a film address issues that we might just accept as a part of our everyday lives, but that are actually problems in dire need of fixing.
That said, the movie also indulges quite a bit of explicit sexual content and perhaps inadvertently glorifies some extremely objectionable behavior. Hardly any of the characters act in a way that should be imitated. That’s partially the point of the film, of course. But we also need to recognize how what we see modeled here could potentially influence impressionable young minds and hearts that could easily stumble across this TV-MA movie on Netflix.
The Guide to the Perfect Family wants you to know that the picturesque family you follow on Instagram probably has the same issues you do. Beneath the hashtags and filters is likely a mother struggling to keep her kids in line or a father trying and failing to relate to his daughter. And while that’s an important idea for both parents and young adults to see and understand, it’s a shame the film chooses to do it under a veneer of inappropriate content and questionable role models.
Lauren Cook is serving as a 2021 summer intern for the Parenting and Youth department at Focus on the Family. She is studying film and screenwriting at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. You can get her talking for hours about anything from Star Wars to her family to how Inception was the best movie of the 2010s. But more than anything, she’s passionate about showing how every form of art in some way reflects the Gospel. Coffee is a close second.