Overview: When Caleb and Camille Fang, performance artists known for their shocking and elaborate public hoaxes, go missing, their children, Baxter and Annie, must investigate the disappearance and come face to face with their own troubled pasts. Red Crown Productions; 2016; 107 Minutes.
What it gets right: The Family Fang gets a lot right. Jason Bateman’s Baxter and Nicole Kidman’s Annie are nuanced and fascinating characters whose motivations make perfect sense. Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett are so wildly good as the Fang parents that I found myself wishing they’d had a bit more screen time, and the Fang hoaxes, such as a dramatically staged childhood bank robbery, are a pleasure to watch. As a director, there’s no doubt that Jason Bateman has improved since his well-meaning but flat directorial debut, Bad Words. In reviewing Bad Words, here’s what I had to say about Bateman’s directing: “He’s fine. That’s it, really. Not bad. Not exceptional. Fine. Bateman certainly has promise.” And Bateman certainly followed through on that promise in The Family Fang, where he makes huge progress behind the camera and pulls understated emotional moments out of a script that leaves a lot to be desired.
Where it falters: The most frustrating thing about The Family Fang is that for all it gets right, it still never totally works. Frankly, the story just isn’t as good as everyone involved seems to think it is. The film is at its strongest in its uncertainties. Are the Fang parents alive? Did they fake their own deaths? Which scenario is worse? Once the question of life or death is answered, the film trips over itself and never quite recovers. The ending in particular is weak, underwhelming, and wrapped up in a flowery bow that doesn’t match the rest of the film.
A quick side note: Throughout the film, there’s this weird hint of incest that’s always present. The possibility that Annie and Baxter might drop everything and start making out is pretty constant, and for the life of me I can’t figure out if the blame lies with the script, which does explicitly highlight a moment of publicly uncomfortable incest as one of the Fang hoaxes, or in the searing and undeniable chemistry between Bateman and Kidman. Some actors make sense as platonic siblings, and some get along so well and look so good together that they always ought to play lovers. Bateman and Kidman, I strongly believe, fall into the latter category.
Overall: I liked The Family Fang all the way through. Despite its weaknesses, I never once regretted paying money to watch this movie. Bateman takes a massive step forward as a director and I look forward to what he does behind the camera next. But with such a stellar cast and fascinating premise, The Family Fang is bound to leave audiences wanting just a little bit more.
Featured Image: Red Crown Productions