At some point this weekend, odds are you’ll be loafing around with your family, trying to decide what to watch on TV, or maybe trying to pick a movie to all schlep to. It’s always a noble plan, but communal viewing so often goes awry as you find yourself watching something that is not fun for the entire family. Sometimes it’s awkward, sometimes it’s horrifying, and sometimes it’s so humiliating and weird that you can’t believe it really happened. Here are some of our least-treasured family-viewing moments.
Amanda Dobbins: My dad has a real knack for picking the most depressing holiday movies: one Christmas we saw 21 Grams; another was The Savages (the Laura Linney–Philip Seymour Hoffman movie about, among other things, putting your parents in a nursing home. I got a lot of meaningful looks that night). But the all-time most embarrassing experience had to be sitting next to my mother, age 12, as Kelly Preston screamed “NEVER. STOP. FUCKING. ME.” in Jerry Maguire. [Mortified wail.] I’d like to see Blue Is the Warmest Color this week, and I’m already thinking of lies to tell my mother (three-hour French dentist appointment?) in case she tries to tag along. I can’t relive Jerry Maguire. It was too real.
Lindsey Weber: Last year my parents thought it would be fun if we all watched the Adam Sandler future classic That’s My Boy. (That’s the one where he plays Andy Samberg’s dad because they happen to look alike in real life.) My family has a long history with Adam Sandler; we love him because he is from New Hampshire (and we are from Massachusetts) and because he is Jewish (and all Jews are required to pay attention to him in some way or another). My mother will never admit it, but every time she hears “Piece of Shit Car” off his acclaimed comedy album What the Hell Happened to Me? she laugh-cries. Anyhow, we watched That’s My Boy together, knowing that it would be awful, but not realizing that it would be so bad that we’d have to turn it off halfway and it would ruin Adam Sandler for my family forever. If we don’t have any remaining reverence for “The Chanukah Song,” what do we have, really?
Jesse David Fox: Two Thanksgivings ago, while the turkey was a-roastin’, my dad suggested the family watch a movie to pass the time. So my dad, mom, 13-year-old little brother, 17-year-old twin cousins, aunt, grandmother, and grandfather chose between what was on TV and what my little brother rented from Redbox earlier that week. After ten minutes of my grandma yelling “What is happening?” at Tree of Life, we decided to switch to the hard-R rated Bad Teacher. I left the room after about five minutes. After hearing which members of my family laughed loudest at a blow job joke, I was good.
Margaret Lyons: When I was in high school, I saw Election at a friend’s house and really, really liked it. A lot. I mentioned to my dad that one of the things I liked about it was how much I related to the ostensible villain, Tracy Flick. A few weeks later, as luck would have it, the movie was on cable! And we watched it together! And I suddenly remembered that while yes, I empathized deeply with Tracy’s obsession with fairness and her off-putting displays of ambition, I did not relate to the part where she has sex with her teacher. That was a fun “wait, are you okay?” conversation.
Abraham Riesman: I watched Clerks on VHS with my dad when I was 13. During the infamous “37 dicks” scene, he paused the tape and tried to explain to me what a blow job was. This was an uncomfortable situation for two reasons: (1) it was my dad talking about oral sex and (2) I had to sit there and act like I didn’t already know everything he was telling me.
Matt Zoller Seitz: In high school I became obsessed with Albert Brooks and decided to show my mother and stepfather his 1985 movie Lost in America, starring Brooks and Julie Hagerty as yuppies who decide to “drop out” by traveling across country in a Winnebago. They were with the film up until the point where Hagerty loses their entire nest egg at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas. My stepfather left as soon as it became clear that they weren’t going to get their nest egg back. He went to the kitchen and didn’t return for several minutes. After a while I got up and went to see what was wrong. He told me, “I don’t know why you showed us that movie. It’s not a comedy.” I said, “Yes, it is.” He said, “There’s nothing funny about somebody gambling away a family’s nest egg. This is not a comedy. It’s a horror movie.” My mom stuck with it until Julie Hagerty fled from Albert Brooks’s furious lecturing by hopping in a vehicle with a man who is later revealed to be a fugitive criminal. She found this behavior unacceptable. My recommendations were always suspect after that night.
Scott Brown: [Editor’s note: This isn’t a family story, but it was too good to pass up.] In high school, I was set up on a late-minute double date by a guy who worked at a movie theater. He didn’t know his date very well and wanted another couple along. So he’d gotten four free tickets to a sold-out movie, but wouldn’t say which one. My date was a friend of his, this very attractive, very prim evangelical Christian girl I didn’t know very well. The movie turned out to be Basic Instinct. To this day, I have no idea what he was thinking. The shockwave of catastrophe hit me fast and kept reverberating … As we all gazed into Sharon Stone’s vagina together — not exactly the view from Lover’s Leap — I realized my date and I would either have a lot to talk about afterwards, or nothing at all. It was the latter.
Patti Greco: Growing up, my older brother showed me a ton of horror movies when I was far too young to be watching them. I think I was 8 when I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street; I saw the original Last House on the Left before I even had my first kiss. We often watched these movies with my mother. Sometimes we watched them with my grandmother. So I’ve been watching inappropriate, non-family movies with my family for as long as I can remember — it’s hard to make me uncomfortable. And yet Never Talk to Strangers, a completely forgotten thriller starring Rebecca De Mornay and Antonio Banderas, jumps out at me. Probably because there’s a sex scene about halfway through that I found actually sexy (as opposed to disturbing or disgusting). Sit me down for some blood and gore and violence with the fam, and I was fine. Force me to watch sexy sex with them when I was just starting puberty, and … gross.
Josh Wolk: Back in 1998, visiting my grandparents in Florida, I suggested we all see the first Naked Gun movie, which I’d already seen but thought it would be fun for all ages. There is nothing sexually or violently objectionable in it (minus one bawdy round-buildings-as-breast-symbol joke), but it quickly became highly uncomfortable sitting through a laugh-a-minute film, painfully aware that my grandparents were not finding any of its 85 minutes amusing at all. I walked out behind them, watching their heads shake in disgruntled disbelief that others had been finding it amusing. Feeling responsible for someone else’s enjoyment when you force them to watch something you love is a commonly painful experience not limited to older family members; it happens with friends or dates, too. It sparks a mixture of guilt, resentment, and self-doubt to see someone else visibly dislike and reject something you love — the equivalent of them wincing when opening a gift from you, but doing so for two hours. I found it particularly odd since this was the same grandfather who had taken my sister and I to see the R-rated The Jerk when I was 10. Why was a movie with a dog named Shithead a good time at the cinema, but this was celluloid atrocity?
Okay, your turn: What did you see with your family that resulted in ongoing emotional trauma?