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Griffin's Funny Family Affair

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By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 4, 2003

IT NEEDED to be said: Michael Jackson's face is so messed up, he now looks like the female monkey from 2001's "Planet of the Apes."

Thank you, Eddie Griffin.

That insight -- and many others far more profound if less printable -- contribute to making "Dysfunktional Family" -- a documentary that alternates footage of the actor-comedian doing his thing on stage with taped interviews with his relatives -- one of the funnier and, in an odd way, disturbing stand-up concert films in a long while.

The offstage bits mainly feature two of Griffin's funny uncles: Bucky, who reminisces about a life of crime and drugs, and Curtis, who apparently aspired to be a porn director in his youth and who regales his nephew (and us) with his collection of dirty tapes and scrapbook of extremely naked women. Griffin's mother, a single parent who once tried to run her son over with the family car, also gets a fair amount of camera time.

Veering wildly from racism to religion to Sept. 11, sex and the difference between dogs and cats (a standup staple), Griffin can sometimes be a little mean -- offensive, even -- in his jokes. "Did I go too far?," he asks rhetorically at one point, in response to what sound like groans mixed in with the audience's laughter. "Did I say too much?" Probably. Though much of the time, as when he does an impression of Bill Cosby as a pimp, his humor has a gentler edge, but is still wickedly funny.

What makes "Dysfunktional Family" unique is its use of family reminiscences and the reaction shots director George Gallo gets of Griffin's relatives sitting in the audience listening to Griffin make light of their hard-knock lives. At times, I'm sure I caught a flash of embarrassment -- even pain -- on Bucky's or Griffin's mother's face as the star spoke, often hilariously, about his resentment of his absent father or cracked wise about watching someone he loves shoot up heroin.

As the playwright Christopher Fry once said, "Comedy is an escape, not from truth but from despair."

DYSFUNKTIONAL FAMILY (R, 84 minutes) -- Contains obscenity, drug references, sexual humor and brief glimpses of pornographic video footage. Area theaters.


© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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