Relative Brings Dysfunction Home For Graduation


Relative, the new dramedy from Chicago filmmaker Michael Smith, brings family dysfunction home for graduation weekend.

Nothing can be more anxiety-inducing than gathering with family. There’s always the one family member who you disagree with politically. Or maybe it’s a sibling that brings out you inner Hulk. And yet, there’s still this bittersweet feeling in being able to come back home. Even if it isn’t your family, you might have time to catch up with friends you haven’t seen in a while.

Michael Glover Smith’s script takes place over the course of one weekend. In this case, youngest son Benji is graduating from college. Benji lives at home with his parents, David (Francis Guinan) and Karen Frank (Wendy Robie), and older brother, Rod (Keith D. Gallagher). In theory, David and Karen should have an empty nest with Benji graduating and moving out. Instead, Rod is taking up their basement like a fungus. He has a son with his ex-wife, Sarah (Heather Chrisler), and spends much of his time doing drugs and playing video games rather than make an effort to find a job. Oh yeah, he also spends money chatting with his cam girl ex. Hardly the mature guy that he should be for his age.

Evonne (Clare Cooney) and Norma (Emily Lape) are the sisters that come in from out of town–Wisconsin and Iowa, respectively. Both of them are in different positions in their life. Evonne is in the process of separating from Lucia (Melissa DuPrey) but comes with both her and their daughter, Emma (Arielle Gonzalez). Clare Cooney delivers a superb performance like usual–filmmakers, please cast her in more films or TV series. Norma comes off like the only one of the kids without problems but given Lape’s look towards the camera at the end, it makes us wonder if maybe something is going on with her home life.

Smith gives us a reprieve from family life in the scenes where Benji is with Hekla (Elizabeth Stam). He gives us some fun interplay between the two. It’s a nice change from the tension back home. He’s out with Hekla when he should be attending the graduation party at home. Of course, Hekla insists on coming and finds a way to bring the film back to the comedy side of things.

Over the weekend, Karen and David throw their kids for a loop. When they say that they have an announcement to make, you immediate come to the conclusion that, oh, right, they’re going to divorce. Instead, it’s much worse than that: they are going to place their Rogers Park home for sale. Did they even stop to think this over? Yes, they are getting up their in age but it’s the only home that their children know from their childhood!

There’s some fun moments in the film that don’t necessarily involve the family. When you’re a film buff, it’s always nice to see a film include a college course about film. In this case, it’s a class about indie film. You can’t help but smile. Later on, Smith finds the time to offer commentary about people who go into acting by way of Elizabeth Stam’s character. Of course, these are the moments that play out like inside baseball because you know where the filmmaker is coming from. It’s like going to Sundance and hearing a couple discussing their niece’s decision to major in cinema studies. These moments are when the filmmakers are having fun and playing to their audience. It’s the small things like these that I can appreciate as a viewer.

Relative is a very different film than the previous Michael Glover Smith films that I’ve watched. Where Smith’s previous films focused on young adults in romantic relationships, Relative turns its focus to the family dynamics and all the stress and anxiety that comes with it. The film might not be Arrested Development or Succession but audiences are bound to take something away from watching it.

CAST: Wendy Robie, Francis Guinan, Cameron Scott Roberts, Clare Cooney, Keith D. Gallagher, Emily Lape, Melissa DuPrey, Elizabeth Stam, and Heather Chrisler

Chicago Film Project released Relative in select theaters on June 10, 2022. Grade: 4/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.