Posted: 04/28/2003


It Runs in the Family


by Coco Delgado

Michael Douglas assembles his fabled father Kirk and mother Diana, along with son Cameron, in one film.

Film Monthly Home
Wayne Case
Steve Anderson
The Rant
Short Takes (Archived)
Small Screen Monthly
Behind the Scenes
New on DVD
The Indies
Film Noir
Coming Soon
Now Playing
Books on Film
What's Hot at the Movies This Week
Interviews TV

It’s not uncommon for a movie to feature, in the opening titles, old black-and-white “family” snapshots of the characters as small children, the characters in school, the characters getting married…But while watching the opening credits of It Runs in the Family it occurs to you that…these photos are real! That photo of Kirk Douglas, his wife, and their newborn son? A young Michael Douglas and a little boy? Why, those are also photos of the characters…

And it’s, admittedly, pretty cool. For a little while. Too bad it’s not cool enough to make the movie better.

This is an interesting movie. It’s fascinating to watch Mike and Kirk, Mike and Diana, Kirk and Diana (who were divorced in 1951), and all the above and Cameron. You wonder how much of what we’re seeing is fiction. One bit that is not entirely fiction is the fact that the Douglas’s—like the Grombergs—are Jewish. The action starts with a Seder, which, considering the roles Michael and Kirk usually play, made me curious. In fact, Kirk Douglas is Jewish. His wife, Michael’s mother, Diana is Church of England, but Michael Douglas can also claim Jewish roots.

Seeing Cameron Douglas with his dad and granddad is interesting, but begs the question: Is it acting? Rory Culkin, as the non-Douglas younger son, however, turns in possibly the best performance of the ensemble when he skips the school dance and wanders Manhattan with the girl he has a crush on. It’s so delicately played, you want to hold your breath so as not to let the pair know they’re being watched.

The plot is disjointed, more a collection of vignettes rather that a cohesive story. I’m not sure if that makes it bad, necessarily…but it does take some getting used to. But you never get a feeling that anything is really resolved. Things happen, and the family deals with them…but it’s just a few scenes of a few days in their lives. There’s no beginning, no ending, just a whole lot of middle. Definitely not up to par with director Fred Schepisi’s other works (Roxane, Fierce Creatures).

(I have to mention this: In one scene, Cameron Douglas’ character phone his ladyfriend from Astor Place. This is the one place I always end up when in New York; it’s the meeting place, the landmark, and the place to find reliable restrooms. It gave me the happy moviegoer “Oooh! I know that place! I’ve been there!” feeling, and that’s always nice…)

Coco Delgado lives in Cambridge-Somerville and always sits in the front row. Her 2003 New Years resolution is to see more than the 66 movies she saw last year.

Got a problem? E-mail us at