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Review: The Family Fang

The Family Fang
04.28.2016
8 10
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This was originally reviewed as part of our TIFF 2015 coverage.

PLOT: An estranged brother and sister (Jason Bateman & Nicole Kidman) reunite after their performance artist parents (Christopher Walken & Maryann Plunkett) disappear.

REVIEW: The Toronto International Film Festival has been an excellent showcase for Jason Bateman's talents. While THE FAMILY FANG is likely too tough to classify to spark the bidding war that resulted in BAD WORDS landing one of the richest distribution deals in TIFF history, there's no doubt that Bateman's sophomore directorial effort is an excellent little film and a skillful blend of comedy and drama.

christopher walken jason bateman nicole kidman the family fang

Perhaps Bateman's own career frustrations from before his Arrested: Development resurgence had an effect here, with him providing two of his stars, Nicole Kidman and Christopher Walken, with parts that allow them to demonstrate a wider range than the way they're usually cast nowadays. Kidman typically plays uptight and cold. Here she's a warm, wild character being an actress closing-in on middle-age and trying to reinvent herself after a series of setbacks (she's been replaced in her own superhero franchise). Kidman's very personable here, more so than she's been in awhile. Comedy's never really been her strong suit (does anyone remember BEWITCHED or THE STEPFORD WIVES?) but she's actually quite funny here in a low key kind of way.

It helps that she's paired with Jason Bateman, who's cast himself to perfection as the under-employed brother who's trying to relaunch a stagnant writing career. Bateman brings his usual, razorshapr cynical edge to the part, and working from a script by David Lindsay-Abaire (who wrote Kidman's RABBIT HOLE) there are no lapses into the maudlin like in his recent star-vehicle THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU.

In some ways THE FAMILY FANG is like THE SKELETON TWINS in that it revolves around estranged siblings forced to rely on each other when their parents extricate themselves from their lives. Here, Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett play the folks, with them being performance artists who thrive on confrontation. Having used their children (who they simply called “A & B”) as their muse, now that they're older and in the YouTube generation, their ambitions have gotten grander even though their schemes threaten their already fragile relationships with their children.

 christopher walken jason bateman nicole kidman the family fang

Walken and Plunkett are wonderful here. Walken's too often asked to play self-parodies and it's nice to see him in a lower-key, character turn. He rises to the challenge of playing this difficult character, who's an artist first and a parent second. An interesting narrative choice by Bateman has the story infrequently interrupted by snippets of a documentary made on the (relatively famous) parents, with Harris Yulin having a great cameo as their former mentor, while a few art-world critics appear as themselves. Considering it's only his second film, Bateman integrates these scenes pretty seamlessly.

Even though it's probably doesn't have the commercial potential of BAD WORDS, to me THE FAMILY FANG is a better film and it should go over very well with Bateman's fans and would seem a natural buy for one of the premium streaming services. It's a likable film with an uncommonly mature wrap-up and a few really dynamic performances. It's exactly the kind of sleeper I hope to see at TIFF every year.

Source: JoBlo.com

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