Is 'The Willoughbys' a family film? Who knows.Youtube/Netflix

The Willoughbys tells a story of four children whose parents neglect them from the day they are born. Tim (voiced by Will Forte), the oldest of the four, is a bony boy whose main mission is to restore the honour of the Willoughby’s family clan. Jane (voiced by Alessia Cara), the only girl amongst the siblings, has a beautiful singing voice and an aura of a daydreamer around her. The two Barnabys (voiced by Seán Cullen) who resemble Kubrick’s super creepy Grady’s twins are nerdy inseparable brothers who even share the same sweater. When Jane finds a baby abandoned by its parents on the doorstep of their house, she insists on keeping it. But instead of sympathising with the baby, her brothers come up with a vicious idea to orphan themselves by getting rid of their own mother and father. Although their parents completely disregard them, they still address them as ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ instead of using their names. This constant mixture of irony and black humour is the main driving force of the film and sometimes makes the viewers laugh through tears.

"The Willoughbys straddles the line between a macabre film for adults and a cookie-cutter Netflix original."

The story is narrated by a blue cat (voiced by Ricky Gervais) that resembles The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland (1951). He’s sardonic, mouthy and always one step ahead of the viewer in both a literal and metaphorical way. He’s a kind of a demiurge who influences the plot by changing the course of events or casually throwing in comments like: ‘Narrators aren’t supposed to get involved but just a little nudge’ or ‘Fine. I’ll stop the bus. Happy now?’. This meta-commentary present throughout the whole film adds originality to its storyline that sometimes may seem a bit too simplistic because it doesn’t delve too much into the psychology of its characters. 

The Willoughbys is a reversal of a typical story about family. The film’s ending doesn’t convey a conventional moralistic message that children should appreciate the value of their own family and their loving parents. Fortunately, the filmmakers decided to skip this kind of didacticism and focus on a more original approach to the family unit. The Willoughby’s siblings ultimately reconcile with the lovelessness and selfishness of their parents. They reject the ideal of a perfect American family we see in ads or films. In fact, when the ‘Perfect Family’ wants to buy the Willoughby’s house, its members end up believing that the house is haunted and run away from it. The film’s creators destroy the stereotype of an ideal family and show that it isn’t always the family bound by blood ties that’s the happiest. Sometimes it’s the patchwork families that give the children the necessary warmth and affection just as we could see in Koreeda’s masterpiece Shoplifters. The Willoughbys’ director, Kris Pearn, states that his film shows that family ‘is not something that is represented in name, but it’s a choice’. And here, all the characters choose to love each other despite not being bound with blood ties. 

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Mountain View

Need to stay in bed and watch Netflix? Completely okay.

The Willoughbys’ animation sometimes seems a bit too sugary and its pace of editing too dizzying. At one point, we enter a candy factory where rainbows and candies of all sorts instantly flood our screens and hike up our blood sugar levels. But in spite of these artistic decisions that I personally don’t like, Netflix’s new production managed to wake up my inner child with hopeless abandon. The Willoughbys straddles the line between a macabre film for adults and a cookie-cutter Netflix original. It made me ask myself a few times who its intended audience actually is, especially when I heard a joke about a sugar daddy, or when I saw the post-credit scene. At first, I found myself a tiny bit disgusted by these odd-ball orphans, but then I remembered that The Willoughbys is based on the idea of killing one’s own parents so....best to have that acutely, and hilariously, 'mature' idea in the back of your head when watching Netflix’s new addition to adult(ish) production. 

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