Holiday Movies: Lessons From Our Favorite Dysfunctional Families

No matter how much we love sitting 'round the fire and drinking eggnog with our families, that extra time together can create a little drama. Whether it concerns the S.O. you brought home to meet the folks or a not-so-well-received present you bought your sis, we know that sometimes even the smallest thing can make you want to pull your hair out.
So, in order to prevent any major disasters this season, we're turning to our favorite holiday movies that just so happen to feature some seriously dysfunctional families. But, rather than just use them as a means of making our own families not look so bad (this totally works by the way), we're taking it a few steps further and seeing what lessons we can take from each. Ahead, our top seven holiday flicks that shed some much-needed wisdom on how to cope (or, how NOT to cope) with our nearest and dearest this Christmas.
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Photo: Courtesy of The Family Stone.
The Movie: The Family Stone

The Family Drama: This film follows the Christmas holiday misadventures of the Stone family in a small New England town, when the eldest son Everett (Dermot Mulroney) brings his conservative girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home with the hopes of proposing to her with an heirloom ring. Meredith's stuck-up demeanor contrasts sharply with Everett's liberal family, and after she inadvertently insults a few of the members, she feels so hated and out of place that she begs her sister to come join her. Everett starts to fall in love with Meredith's sister, while Meredith finds herself clicking with Everett's brother.

The Takeaway: There are many takeaways from this film. The first: Don't consistently insult your boyfriend's family. The second: If you're feeling hostile vibes when meeting them for the first time, you probably shouldn't invite your charming sister to stay with you, as you create the possibility of losing him to her. But, the good news appears to be that there's always his brother. Okay, okay, in all seriousness, The Family Stone teaches us that when you meet people for the first time, you have to give a little leeway. You have to give people a chance to see their true colors, and truth is, not everyone makes a great first impression. Another wonderful thing we see in this film is that the smallest gestures can go a long way. The family's healing begins when Meredith gives Everett's mother a framed enlarged photograph of her, taken when she was pregnant with another one of her kids. So, if all else fails, a thoughtful gift will make all the difference.
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Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
The Movie: Love Actually

The Family Drama: Richard Curtis' instant classic follows eight different couples, as they each experience very different types of love. While each faces challenges, Karen (Emma Thompson) and Harry's (Alan Rickman) plotline is the most gut-wrenching by far. With Christmas nearing closer, Karen — Harry's wife and the mother of his two children — finds an brand-new, expensive piece of jewelry in her husband's coat pocket. Assuming it to be her holiday gift, she puts it back where she found it. When Christmas rolls around, we watch as Karen opens what she believes to be the necklace, only to discover her actual gift is Joni Mitchell's Blue album. At that moment she silently realizes the truth: Harry bought the necklace to give to another woman. She subtly excuses herself from her husband and children, and goes to her room, where she heartbreakingly, quietly sobs alone.

The Takeaway: Where do we even begin? First and foremost, no one should ever cheat on Emma Thompson — or, anyone, for that matter! Okay, all compliments and adoration for Emma Thompson aside, there's a way less literal (but more applicable) takeaway here. With all the excitement and magic of the holidays comes a desire in many to get swept up in the sugary fantasy of it all, and act devoid of any moral compass or rational thought. If you find yourself ditching your best friends for a party they weren't invited to, spending a ton of money on things way out of your budget, or emailing your boss a day before you're expected back at work that you'll be spending another week in Cancun, it's time to come back down to earth! Don't screw over your friends, family, or responsibilities, just because you think they'll always be there for you no matter what. Because, trust us, no party, lavish gift, or extra week in Mexico will feel the least bit worth it if you lose something you really care about in the end.
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Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
The Movie: The Family Man

The Family Drama: The Family Man centers on the story of a man who's forced to see what his life would have been like had he made a different decision 13 years earlier. It begins on Christmas Eve with a life-and-death scenario brought on by a supernatural being who poses as a gunman and addresses the typical question of what is more important: family or wealth and success? And, after seeing what life would be like with a family, the protagonist (Nicolas Cage) concludes that a quiet existence with a wife and kids is what brings true value to life.

The Takeaway: Your family may get on your nerves, but in the end, they are your family and they mean the best...most of the time. Not only would you literally not exist without them, but your life would not feel complete without them. So, even when you're going crazy with the nagging, the bickering, or whatever else the extra family time throws your way, accept and embrace each and every member for who they are, flaws and all. Because, ultimately, you don't want a Christmas ghost or, in Cage's case, a gunman to force you to see what's really important.
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The Movie: Edward Scissorhands

The Family Drama: Tim Burton's classic film tells the tale of Edward (Johnny Depp), an unfinished artificial creation, who has scissors for hands. After being discovered by a suburban mom who takes him back to her home, he falls in love with the family's teenage daughter and, while the neighbors are impressed by his hedge-trimming and hair-cutting skills, Edward nonetheless causes some memorable problems in the quiet community.

The Takeaway: Just because you don't understand someone in your family, doesn't mean you should alienate them. Instead, try and appreciate everyone for their virtues rather than focusing on the things that drive you crazy about them. Oh, and think twice before bringing a man with scissors for hands into your home for the holidays. While he may be a source of major entertainment, he could end up causing more harm than not.
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Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
The Movie: About A Boy

The Family Drama: The film kicks off when Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), a 12-year-old-boy, befriends Will (Hugh Grant), a childless-bachelor. Though not initially enthused by his new companion, Will soon realizes he can use Marcus for his own benefit: He can pretend to be Marcus' father in order to hit on women at support groups for single parents. His plan quickly backfires, and what ensues is actually a very sweet friendship between Marcus and Will. In one particular scene, Will goes to Marcus' house for a Christmas lunch. Marcus' good-for-nothing, never-around father is also in attendance and gives Marcus a pair of shabby socks as his Christmas gift. Will then gives Marcus the gift he brought for him — a CD Player and a rap CD. As if it's not awkward enough that Will's gift completely trumps the father's gift, the scene takes a turn from uncomfortable to cringe-worthy when Marcus' over-coddling mother reads the name of the first track on the CD this older man bought her 12-year-old son is "Shake Yo Ass."

The Takeaway: When purchasing your holiday gifts for others, you may want to consider who will be present when gifts are exchanged. For example, maybe don't give your boyfriend an X-rated gag gift, if he's going to be opening it in front of his parents.
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Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
The Movie: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

The Family Drama: Well, considering the Griswolds are probably the most dysfunctional family of all, we really couldn't narrow this one down to just one instance. Just about every character loses it at least once in this movie, making it either a very screwball comedy — or totally relatable, depending on your upbringing.

The Takeaway: Consider each scene in this movie a perfect example of what not do if going home for the holidays. Follow that closely and you will probably end up having a really nice, easy trip.
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Photo: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
The Film: A Christmas Story

The Family Drama: All nine-year-old "Ralphie" wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock, but every scheme he uses to convince his parents ends up with the response: "You'll shoot your eye out."

The Takeaway: While it's beyond irritating to live an adult life and then come home and be told what to do once again, sometimes parents (and even aunts and uncles) really do know what's best. Take a lesson from Ralphie: In the end, Ralphie's first use of the gun sends the bullet ricocheting from a metal sign and returning to hit his cheek and glasses — practically proving what his family had been telling him all along. But, the movie also shows that from the greatest mistakes comes the best bonding time. When Ralphie's mom takes him upstairs, she forgets to close the door, allowing a pack of dogs to enter the house and eat their Christmas meal. The family then decides to go out and eat at a Chinese restaurant, where they dine on duck and have one of the most memorable Christmases ever.
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