Relative Strangers
Danny DeVito, Kathy Bates
Ron Livingston, Neve Campbell
Directed by Greg Glienna
Peace Arch Home Entertainment 2007
86 minutes

If ya read the blurb on the back of the Relative Strangers DVD ya’ll know you ain’t a fixin for no highbrow comedy. If you get this because the movie co-stars Danny DeVito and Kathy Bates as birth parents Frank and Agnes Manure and you think it’s got to be worth a look, you are right. Relative Strangers is not going to make anybody’s top ten comedy DVD list but it is funny, relaxing, well-done, and interesting.

The one weakish point in Relative Strangers is star Ron Livingston (Sex In The City and The Practice). He kept reminding me of a low-budget version of Robert Downey Jr. He’s got the manic without the control needed to really make it funny. Neve Campbell is her usual ordinary self as Livingston’s fiancée. What really makes this comedy fun to watch are Danny DeVito and Kathy Bates who play their trailer trash good hearted down home characters with great gusto and sincerity.  Their bickering is also a highlight of the movie.

The premise of Relative Strangers is on the eve of his wedding psychiatrist and author Richard Clayton (Livingston) discovers he is not a real blue blood Clayton and adopted. A very quick search reveals he is the son of Frank and Agnes Manure, people who certainly are not as mannered as the Claytons. Clayton decides to meet the parents and discovers they are quite different from his adoptive parents (Edward Hermann and Christine Baranski). Martin Mull has an interesting cameo as Richard’s editor. He also gets in a really good line after the Claytons and Manures meet for the first time: “You know, things are rarely as bad as they seem, which makes tonight so unique.”

You know more is to come when the DeVito and Bates characters find out their trailer park has been wiped-out by a tornado, have no place to stay, and so are invited to stay with soon to be wed Ellen and Richard. This literally gives Richard nightmares and makes for some over the top comedy.

If Richard’s nightmare is scary his real life becomes even scarier. The Manures have a hoe-down at his place (giving Kathy Bates a chance to sing a ditty) and then steal his thunder when he appears on national TV to plug his book on anger management; a serious case of doctor heal thyself.

If you think you’ve figured this comedy out, figure again: Relative Strangers has a few very interesting surprises up its sleeve. What makes the movie work is none of the surprises are unwarranted or forced on the viewer. This is the kind of movie you enjoy and have great fun watching. The end credits feature Danny DeVito and Kathy Bates singing a fun little ditty.


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