Posted in Film, Writing

Why Stories about Family are Worth Writing

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Watching Like a Writer is a movie review series that looks at films from the perspective of a fiction writer, complete with one writing takeaway, and an exercise that will help better your fiction!

Diane Keaton has been a national treasure for the better part of five decades. She’s done a great mix of prestige dramas, like The Godfather and Reds, and classic Hollywood comedies, like The First Wives Club and Father of the Bride. And, oh yeah, I got to meet her last year!

She’s made a whole lot of movies, but here are the best she’s made in her long career…

5. The First Wives Club (1996)

This is the perfect ‘90s comedy for fans of Keaton, Goldie Hawn, and Bette Midler. There’s nothing more fun than watching a group of scorned women take revenge, and the charm of all three actresses add to the endless rewatchability of this movie. The final musical number is one of those moments that should feel indulgent but ends up being surprisingly joyful.

4. Father of the Bride I & II (1991, 1995)

It’s difficult to choose the favorite of these two movies; since they work as companion pieces, it’s necessary to include them both. Keaton’s chemistry with Steve Martin is so winning it’s hard to believe the two didn’t make any other movies together. The first installment is the better film, with a more well-rounded story and a more emotional core. But the second installment is funnier, with Martin at his hilarious best trying to stay relevant in his middle age when his daughter announces she’s pregnant. These are two of the most charming comedies of the 1990s.

3. Marvin’s Room (1996)

This underrated gem from 1996 stars four of our finest actors. Keaton and Meryl Streep co-star as sisters who have never stayed close, with Leonardo DiCaprio as Streep’s troubled son and Robert DeNiro as a bumbling doctor. Keaton gets to really flex her acting muscle in this one, playing a woman who’s devoted her whole life to her ailing father while at the same time battling a cancer of her own. There are numerous scenes of great power in this film, and the ending is truly bittersweet. If you’ve never seen Marvin’s Room, you should do yourself a favor and check this one out.

2. Annie Hall (1977)

Woody Allen’s masterpiece has as its centerpiece Diane Keaton’s warmest, most joyous performance, one that rightfully earned her a Best Actress Oscar. It’s hard to believe this film was originally conceived as a murder mystery with some romantic comedy thrown in! Although everything Allen made with Keaton is great, especially Sleeper and Interiors, Annie Hall is his finest hour, telling of the beginning, middle, and end of a relationship in memorably witty detail.

1. The Godfather I & II (1972, 1974)

Keaton has been a working actor for half a century, but her three best films all came out in the 1970s. While Part III has its moments, the first two installments are pure genius. Keaton plays the naïve wife of Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone, who over the course of the two movies discovers just what the kind of terrible life she’s gotten herself, not to mention her children, into. My favorite Keaton scene by far is at the end of Part II when she yells at Michael about what she felt forced to do because of his awful behavior. She is a powerhouse in these movies, the first two films easily the best of her career.

Watching Like a Writer

Watching The Godfather films recently, I started to think about tackling a large, ambitious novel that deals with a family. Showing how that family interacts with each other, the mistakes they make, the dreams they go after, the tragedies that occur, the love that never stops, is something I know I’d love to explore one day in a longer work, maybe not anytime soon, but someday. I wouldn’t want to write a mafia story, but I’d definitely love to write about a family that has at least a few of its members working in a business some might find controversial. Whatever I end up doing down the road, I’d want to capture the love and loyalty that exists among the large family in The Godfather films and show that no matter how flawed the characters are and how potentially evil they can be, the family does everything it can to stay together and find common ground with one another.

Exercise!

Pitch me an idea for a story or novel centered around a family. What kind of family would it be? What era would the story exist in?

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