‘Relative’ Movie Review: Three Hectic Days Shake Up a Chicago Family in a Well-Written, Witty Drama
Some movies just have that instant, intangible but undeniable “lived in” feeling. It’s like we’re parachuting into the lives of the main characters – lives that existed before we had the privilege of checking in on these people, lives that will stretch far beyond the brief span of time we share with them.
“Relative” is such a movie.
Filmed primarily in the Rogers Park neighborhood and featuring a brilliant and eclectic cast of talented veterans and relative newcomers, this is a wickedly funny, at times poignant and authentic to the core drama/comedy. , about three eventful days in the life of a totally relatable extended family, and when I say “to relate to”, I mean, who is NOT coming from a single colored group where he Is there an almost equal equation of love and dysfunction that branches out into the family tree?
Much of “Relative” takes place in and around the slate-gray Victorian house where Karen and David Frank (“Twin Peaks” and “People Under the Stairs” legend Wendy Robie and Steppenwolf Theater Company icon Francis Guinan, respectively ) have lived for some time. 30 years old, raising four children and maintaining their progressive activism to this day. Optimist Karen works at a local library, while crusty old David wanders around the house in his tight flannel shirts and baggy jeans, cooking breakfast and reading on the porch. (He’s a man who probably never cared about his appearance. He’s extremely comfortable in his own clothes and in his own skin.)
Two of the adult children still live at home: Benji (Cameron Scott Roberts) is about to graduate from college and become a “digital cartographer” for Google Maps, while Rod (Keith D. Gallagher) is a veteran from the Iraq war and a divorced father who spends almost all of his waking moments in the basement, either playing video games or obsessing over his ex-wife Sarah (Heather Chrisler), who somehow works sort as a webcam model.
Back home for Benji’s graduation, sisters Evonne (Clare Cooney) and Norma (Emily Lape). Evonne brings along girlfriend Lucia (Melissa DuPrey) and their daughter Emma (Arielle Gonzalez), while Norma is here solo without her family, and let’s just say both sisters are experiencing emotional downturns in their respective lives and relationships.
The set features a number of other key characters, including free spirit Hekla (Elizabeth Stam), an actress who meets Benji at the Hopleaf Bar and agrees to be his date for his graduation party at the house, knowing it’s probably going to be weird and awkward and a lot of fun, and she’s not wrong.
Talented writer-director Michael Glover Smith (“Mercury in Retrograde,” “Rendezvous in Chicago”) continues to grow as a filmmaker, as he deftly moves pieces across the chessboard in a story told across three days and filled with confrontations, revelations and potentially earth-shattering realizations. (“Maybe if I didn’t always ignore our children’s faults, things would have turned out better for them, maybe they would have turned out better,” David laments, to which Karen replies, “My God, David, are they really I mean, it’s not like any of them have gone Republican.” David: “Well, Rod is a Libertarian, and that’s worse.”)
I hesitate to single out individual actors because each character is so well written and each performance is exceptional. I was watching a movie or an entire series that was just about Karen and David, or Evonne and Lucia and Emma, or Benji, or Rod, or Hekla…
To have them all under one roof, even when the roof may be shaking a bit from all the conflict and drama, is nothing short of fantastic.