From the Archive: The Addams Family

When we were producing The Reel Thing on WWSP-90FM, we were able to get on the list with a couple of studios and promotional houses, receiving electronic press kits for their releases, especially the biggest ones. There were few bigger releases in the fall of 1991 than The Addams Family. As we sometimes managed to do, I incorporated audio from a film clip into my review. Thanks to my selection of what’s proved to be an enduring favorite moment, I can use YouTube to roughly replicate the production detail here. As you can plainly see, I pushed to point of near-abuse of the ellipses here, something I did to provide myself handy verbal cues (this is a radio script, after all). Also, laying out two extremes of expectations about a film only to declare the true measure of it lies in the middle ground is clearly a trope I’ve been using for a long, long time.

For the last several months, there have been two distinct signals being sent out about the film version of THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Every photograph of the perfectly chosen cast, every teaser trailer, and every example of bleak humor on display in television ads has indicated that the film would be wicked fun, with a striking look and costumes and makeup jobs that absolutely demanded attention. On the other hand, every magazine and newspaper article has detailed the troubled, exhausting shoot…the long waiting, the countless mistakes, and director Barry Sonnenfeld’s occasional ill health brought on by the immense amount of stress in putting together a big-budget feature that swapped studios midway through production. It eventually became hard not to anticipate some of that strain showing up in the finished product. So…the question remains, is THE ADDAMS FAMILY a masterpiece of black comedy or a blockbuster out of control. The answer, as it so often does, lies somewhere in between.

The cast…which looked so great in every sneak peek we got…is absolutely marvelous. Anjelica Huston is sultry, sly, and even strangely sweet as Morticia Addams, breathing her lines more than speaking them. Raul Julia plays Gomez with luster, practically leaping off the screen with every sword fight and backflip. Christopher Lloyd’s Fester is all guffaws, twisted expressions, and darting eyes. And young Christina Ricci’s performance as Wednesday is creepy and entrancing: her deep, soulful eyes piercingly cold and her tiny mouth turned into a grim frown. Also credit Jimmy Workman as Pugsley, Judith Malina as Granny, Carel Struyken as Lurch, and especially the amazing…ahem…handiwork of Christopher Hart as Thing, the lovable appendage now liberated from the confines of his box. And director Sonnenfeld, as well as Production Designer Richard MacDonald, Costume Designer Ruth Myers, and Director of Photography Owen Roizman all deserve kudos for the delightful, dark look of the film.

The chief problem rises from an uneven script by Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson…the plot they have built the picture around is slow-moving, predictable, and just plain dull. Instead of following the storyline, you instead find yourself anxiously awaiting the next joke. Some of the gags are as predictable as the plot, but, luckily enough, most of them are deliciously nasty and terrifically funny, such as this one, which arises as a girl scout peddling cookies stops by Wednesday and Pugsley’s lemonade stand….

That moment from the film also gives an example of something the movie could use more of…specifically, the members of this kooky, ooky family mingling with the outside world, comprised of supposedly normal people. Though humorous moments occur as they stay inside their eerie home, the most uproarious scenes come as they venture out into the workforce or attend a school play where the standard sugary sweet elementary chorus song is strikingly contrasted with Wednesday and Pugsley’s version of a parents’ night performance. There’s simply not enough of the Addams’s adventures in everyday society and that society’s reaction to them.

It’s not hard to dissect this film and analyze every misstep…second-guessing certain scenes and developments is a very easy thing to do. But by relaxing and accepting the jokes one by one, waiting out the slow stretches, and relishing the energetically fun sequences…you just may find yourself enjoying THE ADDAMS FAMILY on its own rewarding terms…as a jaunty ride through a rickety house haunted by joyful spirits.

2 and 1/2 stars (out of 4).