To enjoy the film “The Perfect Family,” it is not necessary to have been raised in a strict Catholic home, but it certainly helps. I can relate to much that is discussed in this film. Plus, sixteen years of Catholic education gives additional insight. The film can get hilarious at times, even when deliberating about serious, controversial material. As the mother in this perfect family says “I don’t have to think. I’m Catholic!
Kathleen Turner - Wikimedia
I daresay that Kathleen Turner must be a Catholic in order to have pulled this role off with such aplomb. Times have changed and we are all aghast at what is acceptable in the secular world, but still must abide by the laws of the Church if we want to be a practicing Catholic.
Eileen Cleary (Kathleen Turner) is the stereotypical church lady whose family is raised, and so she devotes her time to volunteer activities. Meals on Wheels, visiting the sick, heading up fundraisers in her parish, being a Eucharistic Minister, you name it. Eileen is always on tap and always on time.
Emily Deschanel - Wikimedia
Eileen Receives the Nomination
Thus, it is no surprise when her pastor, Monsignor Murphy (Richard Chamberlain) notifies her that she is being nominated as Catholic Woman of the Year in her parish. It is fitting that the producers thought of Richard Chamberlain when they were casting the part of the Monsignor. He is the quintessential priest who is remembered mostly from his priestly role in the film “The Thorn Birds.”
It is a great honor to be so-named, and Eileen realizes this. It involves a dinner in honor of the winner, a visit to her home from the Archbishop of Dublin, who will confer absolution on the winner on that day for all of her past sins. Eileen would like this especially, even though we cannot imagine her committing even a venial sin. The only problem is that her competition for the award is Agnes Dunn (Sharon Lawrence), her arch-rival for good deeds done for the church throughout her life.
Eileen’s Catholic Practices
Every moment of Eileen’s life is devoted to prayer and good deeds. Prayers before family meals are a must. She has an altar in her home dedicated to the Blessed Mother, to which she goes frequently to pray. Volunteer work at the church takes up a good part of her day.
Jason Ritter - Wikimedia
She has a handsome husband Frank (Michael McGrady) who is a fireman and a handsome one at that. He is a self-confessed alcoholic who indulged himself for twenty-five years, but now attends meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. Eileen realizes that she raised her son and daughter alone for those many years while Frank was out on the town enjoying himself.
Ah, yes. Her daughter. Shannon (Emily Deschanel) is a successful lawyer in her mid-twenties. Eileen has just now come to realize, after Shannon has told her the truth of the matter, that her daughter is a lesbian. In fact, she and her partner, Angela (Angelique Cabral) are planning their marriage soon since Shannon is now pregnant with their daughter. Shannon has invited Angela to have dinner at Eileen and Frank’s house to clarify their situation and to inform them about the wedding as well as the baby.
Of course, Eileen is shocked at the revelation. Her first thought is her nomination as Catholic Woman of the Year, and what effect this chain of circumstances will have on her chances at winning. Frank seemed to take it a little better; he is aware of his wife’s strict adherence to the laws of the Church.
Richard Chamberlain - Wikimedia
Frank Jr’s Dilemma
Not only that. Eileen and Frank’s son, Frank Jr. (Jason Ritter) is considering a divorce from his wife whom he married after she became pregnant. They now have two children and Frank Jr. wants to be free to marry the local beautician in town with whom he has fallen in love. This is another problem that Eileen must face at this important time in her life.
The Wedding Plans Go Forward
Shannon and Angela are going ahead with their wedding plans, with the aid and consent of Angela’s parents who like Shannon very much. Eileen is not certain whether she wants to attend the wedding, but finally consents to be there. The girls are being married by a Catholic priest, Father Joe, who does not advertise his last name, at the risk of being chastised by his superiors. He has invited Eileen to come and see him anytime she would like to talk things over with him.
One stipulation for the award winner is to present letters of recommendation from the family members of the nominees. Eileen has had a difficult time accessing these documents from her husband and children.
Sharon Lawrence - Wikimedia
Eileen’s Loyalties Are Torn
In the meantime, as part of her church committee work, Eileen attended a meeting with Sister Joan of the parish, her fellow nominee Agnes Dunn, and other women of the parish. Agnes Dunn is seeking the signatures of all of the ladies present on a petition outlawing adoptions by gay persons. One woman who has a gay brother refused to sign the petition. Eileen, not willing to give away her family’s secret at this time, succumbs to the pressure to sign the petition.
As an aside, in 1975, the Vatican issued the "Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics" which called for empathy and compassion from followers, and denounced violence of speech and action against homosexuals. Despite the call for compassion, the Church has not stepped down from his stance that homosexuality is a moral evil.
The wedding went off well, except that Eileen became ill on hearing the vows said by the two girls. She ran from the outdoor rite and knocked over a server who had a tray full of glasses. Because her dress was soaked, Angela’s mother provided her with a jump suit with a questionable logo, which Eileen found necessary to wear for the rest of the day,
Eileen’s Admission to Shannon
Not long after the wedding day, Shannon became terribly ill and lost the baby. Eileen volunteered to come to her house to help with the chores. This surprised Shannon, but she was grateful for the help. It was at this point that Eileen admitted to her daughter that she had an abortion many years ago, when Frank was cheating on her, and she felt that she was unable to care for a third child. Her desire for absolution becomes clear to the viewer.
An Explanation from Frank
In a talk with Frank, he decided that he had enough of life as it was and decided to leave. In the conversation, when Eileen brought up her “abortion,” Frank explained to her that she was hemorrhaging badly and the doctor was obliged to perform a hysterectomy. It was never an abortion. That was a revelation to Eileen.
A Visit from the Archbishop
When the archbishop from Dublin visited her home prior to the dinner in honor of the winning nominee, whichever woman it was, Eileen’s son Frank, Jr. arrived after becoming intoxicated. Frank Sr. ushered him swiftly to a back bedroom just before the arrival of the archbishop. Eileen still did not have the letters of recommendation from her family. She had to explain the absence of both of her children from the meeting.
The Award-Winning Dinner
The award-winning night arrived with both ladies present. Eileen managed to wrest the recommendations from her family, who were all late for the dinner. If you wish to know the outcome of the awards, you will have to view the film.
I loved this film for its honest portrayal of life in a Catholic family. We often hear the term “Catholic guilt,” and this film certainly presented this phenomenon correctly. For all of its flaws, being raised Catholic is a wonderful way to live. Here’s hoping you were able to see the humor in this situation.