Movie review: The Addams Family

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

People, by and large, are not that good with anything that deviates from universally-agreed norms.

Quite when this great conformist meeting of very small minds took place is never quite clear, but somewhere at some point, a group of people decided that things should be this way and not that, and thereafter anyone who broke this devil’s own pact of social myopia was fair game for condemnation, ridicule and if could spare them, and what prejudiced person couldn’t, an angry crowd armed with torches and pitchforks (literal and figurative).

In the latest animated cinematic take on Charles Adams’ immortally kooky and spooky characters, simply titled The Addams Family, directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan to a screenplay by Matt Lieberman and Pamela Pettler, quote how much opprobrium of the most virulently cruel and thoughtlessly closeminded kind can be dished on one unacceptable group of people becomes all too apparent quite early in the film.

In the opening scenes we bear witness, along with the entire extended Addams Family clan who visually cleave far more closer to Addams’ beautifully evocative black and white drawings than other earlier efforts, to the wedding of Morticia (Charlize Theron), who is introduced getting ready for her big day by using the ashes of her parents as hilariously ghoulish make-up and Gomez (Oscar Isaac), who still loves French with amorously comical passion, in the dark cold mountains above what looks like a stock standard shuttered European village.

It’s clear from the scornful looks of the villagers that the Addams clan are not welcome but quite how unwelcome they are becomes crystal clear when a mob turns up, armed with the cliched torches and pitchforks (they can’t even arm themselves with imagination), ready to do their worst.

In what is in many ways a fairly intense scene – there is some humour present based on the gorgeously offbeat oddity of the family but it is by and large allowed to play out without comedic lightening or overly-obvious intrusive commentary – the pain of the villagers’ violent rejection and Morticia and Gomez’s flight to the creepy wilds of New Jersey is writ large in the narrative and on the pained expressions of our newlywed couple who seek temporary and then permanent solace and a home in an abandoned mental asylum high atop a darkly-wooded hill in which the only other inhabitant is Lurch (Conrad Vernon).

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

It doesn’t weight the film down at all, which is light but effective with its messaging and prone to visual and verbal gags aplenty which keeps the laughs flowing consistently like coffee flushed down the toilet of a caffeine-starved, demonically-possessed house, but it is present throughout the film which remarkably manages to be strikingly emotionally-resonant through a great many comically-inspired and fittingly loopy scenes.

Take the moment when we first meet the film’s antagonist Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), a gushingly enthusiastic interior designer and home renovation TV show host who has plonked The Stepford Wives-ian, perfectly-planned and executed town of Assimilation on the once marshy flats below the Addams’ reclusive redoubt.

(So traumatised are they by years of persecution that no one in the family has set foot outside the estate since they took it over; this means that Wednesday, voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz and Pugsley, voiced by Finn Wolfhard have only ever known their walled-in sanctuary as home, something that changes markedly as the film goes on.)

She is, in every way possible, the absolute antithesis of the Addams family – bright, loud, blond and determined to be bright, wonderful and enthusiastic to such an extent that you HAVE to like her.

But, as you might suspect, this happily over-the-top persona masks someone of ruthless ambition and emotional coldness who is determined to remove the Addams family from the town’s view if it’s the last thing she does.

She becomes fanatically obsessed with removing Morticia, Gomez et all from the landscape, trying to be nice and then nasty, triggering a response from the family which also naturally includes Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll), Grandmama (Bette Midler) and Thing (who is fabulously, amusingly animated in ways that will convince hands can do anything) that speaks volumes about the way they have been bullied and how they longer want to put up with it.

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

While there is a great deal of the film which is quirkily funny – watching Lurch dust the house or Wednesday and Pugsley being woken by Ichabod, the tree outside their bedroom is worth the price of admission alone, as are so many other delightfully wacky moments which establish that the family have really not signed up those aforementioned societal norms – it also lets itself be serious when necessary, amplifying its message of inclusivity regardless of difference, and allowing it to resonate even more powerfully without once bludgeoning our head with it (any cranium bashing is the sole preserve of Gomez or Uncle Fester in a series of every more amusing ways).

It’s this willingness to call a spade a bigoted spade, reflecting the serious social commentary of much of Charles Addams source material, that adds substance and heft to a film that on the admittedly wonderful gags alone might have been a little slight and wafty (though endlessly funny).

If you have ever been pilloried, bullied or harrassed for being different from the norm, or even if you’re just sympathetic to anyone who has been, you will find much to identify with in The Addams Family.

For all its demented silliness, those moments when Morticia is battling her carnivorous plants or Wednesday is corrupting the suburban uniformity of new friend Parker Needler (Elsie Fisher) with some deft gothic touches and a willfully, strongly expressed sense of self, the film acknowledges again and again in ways skillfully woven into the narrative, that being treated horrifically badly on a consistent basis does some dark and spirit-crushing things to a person, even those seemingly immune to outside opinion like The Addams Family. (It also rather intelligently admits that the bullied can bully back in their own self-defensive way, every bit as dismissive of the worth of their oppressors as they are of their victims.)

As animated features go, The Addams Family is bright, silly, goofy and downright hilarious at times, just as you’d expect it to be, but it is also empathetically thoughtful and socially aware, a movie as apt to amuse as it is to put forward some sage social commentary, imbuing it with strength and substance to go along with the lovable peculiarity that percolates through the film from heartfelt but loopy start to winningly upbeat but weird finish.

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