"The Family Fang"
Release Date: May 6, 2016
Running Time: 105 minutes
When does art end and exploitation begin? That’s the question raised by Jason Bateman’s second directorial effort, a dark and bitter adaptation of Kevin Wilson’s 2011’s novel The Family Fang. Bateman’s follow up to 2014’s black comedy Bad Words is a dramatic exploration of the emotionally and psychological scars adults carry over from childhood. Bateman and Nicole Kidman play siblings Baxter and Annie, respectively. They are still haunted by their childhood participation in the live public performances concocted by their artist parents to confuse and then shock their unsuspecting audiences. Bateman opens The Family Fang with a flashback to the preteen Baxter pulling a gun on a bank teller and his father, posing as a security guard, trying to defuse the dangerous situation he’s created for his family. Today, Baxter’s a best-selling author suffering from writer’s block; Annie’s an actress on the downside of her career. When Baxter’s injured during a magazine writing assignment, he and Annie return home to spend time with their parents Caleb and Camille (played as seniors by Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett, respectively). Needless to say, old wounds are reopened, resulting in a resentful Caleb blaming his current streak of failed and/or unnoticed public performances on his adult children’s refusal to participate. Bateman employs multiple flashbacks to reveal the true nature of Caleb’s artistic impulses and the impact his choices as both an artist and a parent had on his children. David Lindsay-Abaire’s script doesn’t let the seemingly concerned Camille off the hook, either, as The Family Fang questions if and when the drive to create challenging art—that holds a mirror up to society—should trump the need to keep children safe and protected. There’s one particular flashback, set during a school play, that reveals all we need to know about Caleb, Camille, and those who believe in their work. The flashbacks lead to a late revelation that, while it speaks to the desperation that fuels Caleb and Camille’s work today, seems contrived. It doesn’t ring true, and neither does Baxter and Annie’s reaction. Bateman does manage to pull off a bleak ending that feels appropriate given the circumstances. He also orchestrates the events of The Family Fang with the same assured hand he displayed with Bad Words. Despite its occasional flirtation with humor, though, The Family Fang maintains a dour serious tone that disengages us from Baxter and Annie’s emotional journey and requires Bateman to play it safe way too often. This is a strange story that would benefit from the weird and warped sensibilities of Wes Anderson to truly bring out the best and worst in the dysfunctional Fang family.
Aired: May 5, 2016
Web site: http://thefamilyfangmovie.com/