A trip to the movies, what an excellent way to entertain a big group of family members at once and get everyone out of the house before any serious fighting starts! Currently, there are lots of options in the theaters for all age groups, but not necessarily a lot of options for the whole family to watch together.
Opening Wednesday, Nov. 26, in wide release are Penguins of Madagascar (PG), decidedly a kids movie, and Horrible Bosses 2 (R) decidedly not a kids movie. Also for adults, you can find Oscar buzzy films such as Foxcatcher (R), Steve Carrell and Channing Tatum, in limited release on Wednesday (in Boston-area theaters) and The Theory of Everything (R), which also opens locally Wednesday, Nov. 26.
As for films already in theaters (and that I have already reviewed), there aren't a lot of all-ages options. Big Hero 6 (PG), the Disney animated movie from a few weeks ago is probably the closest thing you've got to a most-kid-appropriate movie. It is the story of a boy and his balloon-like robot having superhero-ish adventures as the boy tries to get over the loss of his older brother. Kids a few years into elementary school are probably old enough to be fine with the scary stuff and there is enough visual interest in the invented city of San Fransokyo to keep adults from suffering through the film (and hey, a little mid-movie nap never hurt anybody).
The other family friendly (particularly if the kids are older, maybe 12 and up), film out there is St. Vincent (PG-13), starring Bill Murray as a grumpy neighbor who reluctantly babysits single-mom Melissa McCarthy's tween son Oliver. It has an overall sweetness, though there are some awkward moments — Bill Murray is a client of Naomi Watts, who plays a "lady of the evening," and I remember at least one shot of them, er, actively in bed and another of her very pregnant character working at a strip club. There is also some brief violence, both involving Murray's character's confrontation with a loan shark and Oliver's confrontation with a school bully. But overall the movie has a very kind quality that reminded me a lot of Danny Boyle's Millions from 2004.
Dumb and Dumber To (PG-13), though not anywhere near as good at St. Vincent, also lingers in that "almost family friendly" category. A weak-sauce copy of a Stooges-style physical comedy, Dumber does have some crude and sex-suggesting moments. Though many of the jokes might fly over the head of an 11 or 12-year-old, it also make for some awkward moments if God forbid you're asked to explain the jokes. Also, I'm not sure that "sort-of almost family-OK" is enough reason to subject yourself to this limp movie.
If the crowd you're entertaining is all of R-movie aged, your options get better. The gritty World War II movie Fury, starring Brad Pitt, isn't the best war movie ever but it's not bad and it hold your attention for most of its two hours and 15 minutes. Birdman (R), starring Michael Keaton and Naomi Watts, is a far more entertaining movie, though with its humor about Broadway theater, Hollywood and the intersection of the two, it might have more limited appeal than Fury. Birdman might be best for the crowd that gets and appreciates the irony of the statement "Michael Keaton plays a Hollywood actor still best known for his work as a husky-vioced superhero from the 1990s."
And then there are the two big movies of this fall, Gone Girl and Interstellar. I suppose if you're looking to get rid of the family for long enough to take a nap, do some chores, bake a cake and catch up on your DVR, Interstellar (PG-13) might be your choice, as it clocks in at nearly three hours. But the movie is so bloated, so heavy with science-talk but light on science-wow, that I wouldn't recommend it as a film to take a crowd to — the Christopher Nolan devotees have already seen it and everyone else will be bored. (There is some violence, but it's the length and the general blah-ness of the movie that probably make it no fun for anyone under 13 or so — and not a lot of fun for many of us older than that.)
Gone Girl (R) on the other hand is only about 19 minutes shorter than Interstellar and way more family-inappropriate (sex, violence, a shot of Ben's Affleck), but it is a juicy, darkly-fun movie in the style of the very best summer beach read. A crowd of adults of roughly the same generation will probably enjoy seeing the movie together and discussing the twistier aspects (and whether they caught the infamous shower scene) later.
As seen in the November 27, 2014 issue of the Hippo.