Sunday, April 17, 2016

“The Family Fang”– Movie Review


This weekend, I attended a screening at The Tribeca Film Festival of the new comedy-drama, “The Family Fang”, directed by Jason Bateman, in which he co-stars with Nicole Kidman. 


When adult siblings seek their parents who have turned up missing under mysterious circumstances, will it turn out to be yet another one of their hoaxes?


Annie and younger brother Baxter Fang (Kidman and Bateman) have been doing the best they can to carry on with their lives despite their unusual upbringing.  As children, their parents Caleb and Camille (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunket) were notorious performance artists known for filming the pranks they pulled on an unsuspecting public – pranks which usually included the participation of their offspring Annie and Baxter.  Eager to please their parents in exchange for the implicit understanding of unconditional love, Annie and Baxter allowed themselves to be used in their parents’ warped form of home movies, which made them famous.

As an actress starring in small, independent films, Annie’s career is stalling; due to a personal history of unpredictable behavior and substance abuse, many studios are now reluctant to hire her and her own agent is losing confidence.  Baxter, on the other hand, became a writer; after getting a couple of novels published (one to great acclaim), he now finds himself stuck on his current project due to severe writer’s block.  He is then forced to accept various freelance journalism assignments wherever he can find them in order to make ends meet. 

After a freak accident forces Baxter to grudgingly reunite with his sister and parents, he and Annie are soon awash with memories of their disruptive and unorthodox upbringing.  Eventually, Caleb and Camille must take off, leaving Annie to care for Baxter in the upstate New York home where they were raised.  Later, police notify the siblings their parents’ car was abandoned at a rest stop – Caleb and Camille are nowhere to be seen, but the car is covered in blood stains that are believed to be Caleb’s.  With their parents presumed dead, Baxter is determined to move on – but when Annie suspects this may be yet another elaborate con being pulled by their parents to reestablish themselves as society’s pre-eminent performance artists, can she prove Caleb and Camille are both still alive or will the police provide evidence otherwise? 


Jason Bateman showed off his skills as a director in the hilarious comedy “Bad Words”, in which he also starred; he has scored yet another major triumph in this unusual film, “The Family Fang”.  It is difficult to pull off a balance between the two extreme ranges of black comedy and serious drama, yet somehow, Bateman has managed to succeed, intermingling flashbacks between Baxter and Annie’s childhood juxtaposed against present day.  “The Family Fang” is a wild ride, but one with a cohesive structure and deeply satisfying conclusion.

This movie is based on the novel of the same title by Kevin Wilson and its screenplay adroitly adapted by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire.  The movie is greatly assisted by some excellent casting choices, not the least of which being Walken as the oddball father who coerces his family into satisfying his own egotistical needs.  Kidman herself is also quite good as the rightfully suspicious Annie, who’s at the end of her rope both professionally and emotionally.  Maryann Plunket is believable as the mother who seems to go along to get along, sublimating her own artistic career goals in the process. 

Following the screening, there was a brief question and answer session with the cast and screenwriter.  Bateman was brought into the project by Kidman, who originally owned the property and was interested in hiring him both as director and co-star; he added that part of his decision to do this movie was that following a broad comedy like “Bad Words”, he wanted the opportunity to do something weightier.  Kidman told attendees that what she found gratifying about the project was bringing a novelist like Wilson to a larger audience.  She lives in Tennessee with her husband and Wilson is an author also from that state. 

The Family Fang (2015) on IMDb

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