Decided to rewatch The Ref over the weekend. I randomly found out it was on Netflix a month ago, and given how badly all my recent attempts to watch movies I hadn't seen before have gone, going back to something familiar I liked didn't sound too bad.
Denis Leary is a thief, trips an alarm robbing a house, his driver panics and bails, so he takes Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis hostage. This leaves him trapped in their home on Christmas with the squabbling couple, Spacey's idiot brother's family, and their domineering mother. Angry, hilarious yelling ensues. I think "Shut up" constitutes one-third of all words spoken during the movie.
I hadn't watched this in years, so I remembered the part where the in-laws have arrived, and Leary tries passing himself off as Caroline and Lloyd's marriage counselor being a much bigger part of the movie. It's actually only the last half-hour. Prior to that is the burglary, the intro to Caroline and Lloyd's dysfunction, their delinquent son (who is annoying in that way "bad" kids in '90s movies often are, but the film points out the kid really has no idea how good he has it, so I think he's supposed to be annoying).
Every character in the movie is right, but also wrong. (Except Lloyd's mother, who is a complete ass with a martyr complex. My favorite line is Lloyd leaning down to her and telling her that next Christmas, "we're going to get you a big wooden cross, and every time you feel unappreciated you can climb up and nail yourself to it." Spacey has this great look of smug satisfaction come over his face as he says it, too. You can tell he had hit his limit with her, and he's pissed enough to let her have it with both barrels. Best of all, she's never going to see it coming from her dear boy.)
Characters are quick to point out each other's faults, but are oblivious to their own, and often misread the others. Gus, for all that he cuts through Lloyd and Caroline's bullshit, also brings a lot of his own class resentments into how he sees them. He's not happy with his life, and figures Lloyd should be with his, not realizing the truth of it. But Lloyd does have a little of the martyr in him, with his whining about how someone (meaning him) has to be responsible.
You end up a few people with love each other, but have allowed too much crap to build up between them, and a bunch of other interactions where the characters hate each other, but pretend they enjoy spending time together because that's what you're supposed to do. Connie doesn't really want to visit Lloyd and Caroline, hates the food Caroline prepares, but it's what you're supposed to do, so they go and pretend to like it. Gus, the wandering Santa, probably doesn't like delivering a fruitcake to Lloyd and Caroline, but does it out of routine. No one likes Rose, but she's the matriarch, and has a fuckload of money, so they all pretend.
And it's Gus, who as a cat burglar trying to avoid arrest and preferably not be noticed, and therefore the one with the most to gain from everything proceeding as normal, who upends everything. His presence applies enough pressure that all the facades shatter. It happens even before he meets Caroline and Lloyd, because his crime brings all the wealthy asshole bigshots to the sheriff, who can't deal with any more of their self-important crap and tells them so, rather than continue to kiss their asses. The added stress of a gun-toting burglar having their son as a hostage upstairs leaves Caroline unable to keep up a pretense of everything being OK, which gets to Lloyd. And that starts to infect the others, and they start to grate on Gus, and he loses control and the whole thing spirals out of control. It's a lot of fun sometimes to watch fictional people with fucked up families scream at each other (it helps that no one is going to get seriously hurt).