It Runs in the Family

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
It Runs in the Family Movie Poster Image
Disappointing story of a dysfunctional family.
  • PG-13
  • 2003
  • 109 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Strong women.


Tense family scenes, bullies menace smaller kids.


Strong sexual references and situations for a PG-13.


Strong language for a PG-13, including "s--t," damn, ass, and bitch.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Character uses and sells drugs, drinking and smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this movie has a lot of mature material for a PG-13, including sexual situations and references. There is one casual sexual encounter in which a girl introduces herself to the boy just as they are about to go to bed together. An older brother nags his 11-year-old brother about kissing (or more) the girl he likes. A grandfather gives his grandson tips about seducing a girl. An adulterous encounter is halted because someone comes into the room. A character uses and deals in drugs, and characters turn to alcohol to numb their feelings.

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What's the story?

Starring Kirk Douglas, his ex-wife Diana, and their progeny, IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY centers on the Gromberg family, who do not communicate very well. Alex (Michael Douglas) is trying to reconnect with father (Kirk Douglas), who is recovering from a stroke and has impaired speech. (But what really impairs Mitchell's communication is his irascible nature.) Alex works at the law firm his dad co-founded, but his heart is not into corporate work. He is happier working at a soup kitchen and organizing a rent strike. When another volunteer at the soup kitchen makes a pass at Alex, he is conflicted but almost willing to become involved with her. His wife Rebecca (Bernadette Peters) is a therapist, warm and loving, but they are not connecting as much as they both need to. Their son Asher (Cameron Douglas) is a slacker, failing in college and selling marijuana. Their younger son, Eli (Rory Culkin) does not feel that he can talk to his parents. Instead of telling them that he needs more allowance, he prints off a spreadsheet showing them his expenses.

Is it any good?

You keep hoping for this movie to be better than it is. But it never is. The main reason I wanted this to work was the story behind the movie. Along with Oscar-winning father and son, the cast also includes Michael's son Cameron and Michael's mom (and ex-wife of Kirk) Diana Douglas, playing the mother/grandmother. But the script is terribly weak, with the requisite ingredients for a family story and then it keeps going off in too many different directions including a do-it-yourself Viking funeral that is completely batty.

Michael Douglas is clearly enjoying himself, and brings a great warmth to his performance. His son Cameron cannot act and has little star quality, but may get better with more experience. The real star of the movie is Michael's on and off-screen mother, Diana, who brings a marvelous elegance and humor to her role. When she dances with her husband, there is real history between them, magnificently so.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why it is so hard for the people in this family to talk to each other, even though many of them want to. How do different families communicate in different ways?

Movie details

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