Now available on DVD is Writer/Director Ash Christian’s ode to the dysfunction of families, "Petunia." "Petunia" is not just one character, it’s a family of flawed parents, siblings, in-laws, and cousins among the slice of unbalanced life they exemplify.
Set within the backdrop of beautiful New York City in the dead of winter, "Petunia" features a high-level cast of actors. The psychotherapeutic matriarch of this "family in progress" is Felicia Petunia (Christine Lahti), who’s busily playing matchmaker to her three sons, bulldozing them into seemingly healthy relationships. Felicia’s not only struggling with her aging self-image, but also with her impotent husband Percy Petunia (David Rasche). The two are on the outs and in the throes of divorce.
Good guy Michael Petunia (Eddie Kaye Thomas) marries Vivian (Thora Birch). Both are cheating on each other; Vivian discovers she’s pregnant, most likely from her new brother-in-law Adrian (Jimmy Heck), a sex addict who blurts out "I love you" to his random screw.
Then there’s neurotic Charlie Petunia, played by the quirky and charismatic Tobias Segal. Charlie is a gay rubber-band-snapping abstinence freak who falls in love with, then learns a terrible truth about Vivian’s cousin George McDougal (Michael Urie), changing his definition of what he sees as "normal." Whew! Got it?
"Petunia"’s assets lie completely with the vivacious talent behind its storytelling. Actor Christine Lahti is enchanting to watch. She goes from the high comedic practice of "destructive therapy" (the process of smashing objects to relieve stress and anxiety), to down-to-earth realism when confronting Rasche about their failed marriage. Brittany Snow (Michael Urie’s dirty little secret) gives an especially notable and heartbreaking performance. Michael Urie’s portrayal as George is as charming as it is honest and straightforward. In his first featured lead role, newcomer Tobias Segal’s appeal will have you rooting for the whole family to "work it out" and achieve the unsurmountable goal of normality.
The Petunia Family is trying to live the American Dream, but they just aren’t sure what that looks like. "Petunia" looks at where our families lead us along this journey we call life. Onlookers can feel empathy for these characters, but don’t necessary have to like them to do so. Ash Christian’s delicately developed script provocatively focuses on the simple desire to be loved.
Regretfully for this DVD, the Bonus Features fall short. All you’ll find are: The "Petunia" movie trailer; an uninspiring Director’s Commentary with Ash Christian and producers Theresa Bennett and Jordan Yale Levine; and a recorded radio interview with Birch, Lahti, and Urie on Toledo’s 94.5 WXKR-FM, which inexplicably cuts off in the middle of the interview after just five minutes.
That being said, "Petunia"’s standout performances make it worth seeing. Although the DVD extras leave a bit to be desired, I encourage you stop and smell the bouquet of abnormality "Petunia" offers, in the comfort of your home’s own dysfunctional family room.