The Spanish writer Olatz Arroyo and the director Arantxa Echevarría come from The perfect family (or the Spanish title, La Família Perfecta), the Spanish-language film ended up on Netflix under a licensing deal. Is the story about an uptight mother and her son’s girlfriend from the lower class in Madrid worth the stream?
The essentials: Elegant housewife Lucia is shocked when her son Pablo introduces her to a lower-class woman, Sara, with the intention of marrying her. Reluctantly, Lucia helps them plan their wedding alongside Sara’s father, Miguel, who inadvertently changes their life forever when they develop a crush on one another.
What will it remind you of?: Lucia’s initial wedding sabotage plan felt like Jane Fonda monster in lawbut her character’s journey feels more like Julia Roberts reinvention eat pray love (although Lucia does not have to leave the country to find happiness).
Notable performance: Belén Rueda is great at calibrating the different versions of Lucia – totally believable as a snooty upper-class woman and then later as a reformed school administrator.
Memorable dialogue: Before he embarks on a road trip to wedding locations, Pablo’s father makes it clear to Ernesto that he is unable to take care of himself: “Do I heat in Celsius or Fahrenheit?” he asks about the microwave. “The fridge was right here!” he states later in the scene.
gender and skin: While we don’t see anything explicit, Pablo and Sara have noisy sex in the cabin that scares his mother.
Our opinion: If this were a film solely about the friction between a strict mother-in-law and her remote daughter-in-law, this film would fall flat. There is little character and relationship development between Pablo and Sara – the only thing we really see is the conflict of the two different worlds they come from, which is manifested in their mannerisms and costumes. We also rarely see Lucia and Sara interacting enough to justify the alleged hatred between them. It’s a story we’ve seen before, and ultimately Lucia doesn’t fully embody the evil mother-in-law stereotype, aside from urging the couple to postpone their wedding.
So it’s great that the movie isn’t really about that. The ill-fated romance between Pablo’s mother, Lucia, and Sara’s father, Miguel, is a distraction to a more interesting story: Lucia’s reinvention. After the affair, Lucia moves out of her large, dreamy apartment and away from the usual amenities (including her disinterested housekeeper and cold husband), forcing Lucia to finally listen to herself. I’m always here for the story of older women finally living their lives on their own terms, and The perfect family makes Lucia trip over her own feet on her journey to this place.
While there aren’t any standout performances in the film, Rueda’s warmth makes it easy to root for her even when she’s making bad decisions. And the movie is funny in a subtle way, with a few one-liners that make you chuckle (although I didn’t necessarily laugh out loud at any point).
This movie won’t change the world and plays like a Lifetime vacation movie at times, but it’s entertaining for those interested in a light-hearted film that might also make you book your next flight to Madrid. (Note: Netflix will automatically play this film with an English dub, but I recommend watching it in the original Spanish with subtitles to get the full impact of the performances and story.)
Our appeal: Stream it. What begins as a typical story about a wealthy, disapproving mother-in-law evolves into a film about freedom and reinvention.
Radhika Menon (@menonrad) is a television-obsessed writer based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared on Vulture, Teen Vogue, Paste Magazine, and more. She can always think about Friday Night Lights, the University of Michigan, and the perfect slice of pizza. You can call them Rad.