“The Family Fang” (2015)
Running Time: 105 minutes
Directed by: Jason Bateman
Featuring: Jason Bateman, Nicole Kidman and Christopher Walken
Baxter Fang: “Don’t be afraid. Own the moment. If you’re in control then the chaos will happen around you and not to you.”
Jason Bateman had such success at an early age as a kind of alternative to Michael J. Fox it may have been easy for him to have been dismissed, with him fading into obscurity. What he has done however is take roles as supporting characters in both drama and comedy’s, with the upshot that he has also slipped into leading man roles as well. He is so versatile that it looks easy and so he has added more strings to his bow, directing being one of them. This is his second directing effort after the excellent “Bad Words” (2013) and this is a heartfelt comedy/drama that finds him with a nice supporting cast with him upping his own game in all departments.
The film is primarily about Annie and Baxter, the adult children of the controversial husband and wife conceptual performance art couple famous for their quirky macabre public performances, have never got over the fact that their parents kept using them during their childhood in their often gory and disturbing satirical public performances. They often clash with their now elderly parents over this and blame them for their problems in their adult life. However, the two become worried when the police advise them know that their parents have gone missing during their trip outside of town. The brother considers the possibility that something horrible might have happened to them, but the sister is convinced that it’s just another one of their stupid games or twisted conceptual performances. She convinces him that they should go and look for them themselves.
As with most American independent movies as well as Jason Batemans last film as director, “Bad Words” (2013), the central commonality is the choice and performance of the actors – and “The Family Fang” is no different. The central performances are simply flawless and you can see why these performers are some of the most in demand characters actors in film today.. Bateman has of late been the straight man in many comedic roles, but here we find him playing characters without a hint if irony, as well as seeing what middle age holds for him and his family. I really enjoy seeing Nicole Kidman in these character roles where she is always original and heartfelt; I think this is her real strength and look forward to many more years of scene stealing. Christopher Walken has always had a way with dialogue and here he uses his gravitas in a way I have not seen in some time – just a great technique in his work as always. Among the uniformly terrific supporting cast, Harris Yulin is memorable as the Fangs’ art school mentor and the pawn in one of their first major statement pieces.
As a second time director Bateman has had to learn how to take a plot and narrative that express very different themes as well as aspects of storytelling, such as moving the story back and forth through time whilst making sure plot ties together in an organic way. The film could have been all melodramatic and sentimental but I believe he skims these to transcend what could have been quite a self indulgent movie.It must help him that he has surrounded himself both in front and behind the camera with professionals who know exactly what is required of them.
For people who enjoyed Kevin Wilson’s book, this faithful adaptation will be a welcome reminder of its “beautiful spontaneity,” to quote from the Fang manifesto. And for those unfamiliar with it, the film will provide reasons to seek it out.
This excellent film is out now on DVD.