You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family, even and especially if you wish you could. Familial dysfunction is such a universal constant that the endless fountain of family dramas should come as a surprise to nobody. It’s a subgenre so densely packed with nearly identical films that sometimes you have to wonder why anyone bothers to make them anymore. Then, everyone once in a while, a film like The Family Fang comes along and the whole thing feels new again.
Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman star as Annie and Baxter Fang, siblings who, despite Annie’s work as an actress and Baxter’s as a novelist, are most famous for their work as Child A and Child B in the guerilla performance art pieces choreographed by their parents. When Baxter is shot in the head by a potato cannon, Annie and Baxter find themselves reunited with their parents, Caleb (Christopher Walken) and Camille (Maryann Plunkett) where it becomes clear that all the Fangs remember time together very differently. And then, suddenly, their parents disappear. The police presume them dead, but Annie is sure that their disappearance is just their latest and most elaborate performance.
The Family Fang is Bateman’s second film, following 2013’s Bad Words and it solidifies him as a solid directorial talent. Adapted from Kevin Wilson’s novel, the script by David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) deftly balances comedy and tragedy within the trappings of an adventure story. The film creates a tangible context to discuss abstruse notions of art, family, and self-deception, wisely not choosing to not delineate between these concepts but rather show how they coalesce to create an identity.
Bateman has assembled an impeccable cast, lead by a captivating performance from Nicole Kidman, who oscillates between strength and fragility with chaotic poise. Christopher Walken is as unhinged as ever, wielding his dark charm in a part that feels tailor made for him. Bateman holds his own as the introspective writer plumbing his family for material. Maryann Plunket’s Camille exudes quiet tragedy as a woman caught between her husband and her children, who most acutely embodies the question: what do we give up for family?
Verdict: 5 out of 5
Jason Bateman’s sophomore film is a sure handed look at family’s ability to enrich, define, and destroy our lives. Yet, for a film questioning the constructive and destructive effects of family, The Family Fang manages to both land its punches and deliver a genuine message of hope. Bolstered by excellent performances and a script that is funny and contemplative in equal measure, Bateman establishes himself as a real directorial talent. The Family Fang is one of the strongest films playing the Tribeca Film Festival, and is due out on VOD in early May.