Being a part of a family unit isn’t easy. For some, it’s worse than others. Actor-turned-director Jason Bateman has been in his share of family-centered films, “This is Where I Leave You” being the last one he did. His second feature directing, Bateman has most definitely stepped up his game since his mean-spirited “Bad Words.” “The Family Fang” examines the relationship between parents and children, art, and sacrificing it all for the sake of it in a humble film that is more than what it seems.
Bateman doesn’t go for comedy here. The moments that are played for laughs are more confusing than anything because, as the audience, we’re watching Caleb and Camille Fang (the younger versions played by Jason Butler Harner and Kathryn Hahn; the older couple played by Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett) create displays of absurdity to get a real-life reaction by the general public. The film opens with a scene in which the Fang children, whom their parents refer to as “A” and “B,” are the primary “actors” in a bank holdup. Gun, fake blood, and all. And as the crowd looks on in horrified disbelief after realizing the whole thing is a setup, the family walks away happily, laughing because they got everything they needed by way of a camera.
Fast forward to present day, Annie (Nicole Kidman) is a struggling actress whose difficulties finding a job in Hollywood have everything to do with the fact that she’s fast approaching middle age. Baxter (Jason Bateman) is an underemployed down-on-his-luck writer who has hit a writer’s block. After an accident, the two siblings find themselves back in their family home with their estranged parents. Being performance artists who live in a new world of YouTube and cameras installed on every phone, Caleb and Camille try and get their kids to get back into business with them, but when they disappear, it’s up to the brother and sister duo to find them.
“The Family Fang” doesn’t at all resemble anything we’ve seen before in terms of the usual family dynamics we’re accustomed to seeing in films. Of course, the parents are portrayed as crazy and the children are heavily affected by their unorthodox upbringing, but it isn’t over-the-top outrageous like so many other films of its genre. It’s a study of surviving a strange childhood. It’s also an interesting take on the value of art to the elder Fangs. It’s almost pretentious in its aggressiveness. To do everything in their power to protect the art is something on doesn’t know whether to clap for or be disturbed by.
Nicole Kidman and Christopher Walken have great roles they can both really sink their teeth into. Kidman is sad, disbelieving, and hurt by her parents but trying to get her feet back under her. Bateman is the quieter of the two, more accepting of the way their parents are because he believes they can’t change. The pair stick by each other’s side because only they can understand what it’s like to have lived with parents who used and valued them ahead of their performance art.
“The Family Fang,” while sometimes lagging a bit pacing-wise, is a fairly solid feature. Bateman moves back and forth between the present and the past to inform the characters and the story. This can sometimes throw off a bit of the pacing, but it does its job well enough to develop everything in the lead up to the finale. Bateman redeems himself from his last film and it’s put faith back into his abilities as a director.
"The Family Fang" is a fairly solid feature that explores familial relationships in a different context. It also questions the dedication to art by way of sacrificing personal relationships for it. Jason Bateman proves he's a competent director.