The Family Fang Review

Family Dysfunction

When is an indie movie not an indie movie? When it’s made with A-list Hollywood talent like Nicole Kidman and Christopher Walken in leading roles. Jason Bateman’s sophomore directorial effort isn’t poor, but something is ultimately missing from the well-intentioned dramedy.

Based on Kevin Wilson’s bestselling novel, one thing is abundantly clear about The Family Fang. The low-key drama likely wouldn’t have been made without a major Hollywood actor like Jason Bateman strongly behind it. That is not to say the movie doesn’t have its charms or good-natured surprises, but this isn’t material that screams accessible entertainment.

The pitch-perfect casting works with its headline stars. Nicole Kidman plays Annie Fang, an aging celebrity actress on the downside of her acting career. Could that part have been cast any better? I think not. Jason Bateman plays Annie’s brother, Baxter Fang. Baxter is an author stuck in middle age with a case of writer’s block.

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It wouldn’t be a family drama if there wasn’t a serious conflict at the core of this movie. The adult Fang siblings are still dealing with emotional issues inflicted on them during childhood by their parents. Caleb and Camille Fang are famous performance artists that have built a career upon staging pranks on unsuspecting bystanders. The Fangs believe they are creating great art and pushing boundaries.

Bateman’s movie is caustic with a wry, almost sarcastic wink to the audience.

Unfortunately for Annie and Baxter, their parents loved bringing them into the artistic stunts during their childhoods. That has caused a rift filled with anxiety and mistrust within the family, even as the children have moved on and become successful adults. Christopher Walken plays the abrasive Caleb Fang, a performance artist more devoted to his “art” than his own family. When Caleb and Camille go missing in a bloody car, Annie and Baxter don’t know if this is another stunt or their parents’ actual deaths.

There may be something lost in translation from the written page of the novel to the screen for The Family Fang. I’ve heard Bateman did a great job directly adapting the novel. Readers may have more interest in this material than the average viewer.

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Bateman’s movie is caustic with a wry, almost sarcastic wink to the audience. If I had to offer advice to the relatively inexperienced director, the voice-overs simply don’t work in The Family Fang. They bookend the movie’s narrative and both times should have been jettisoned. The first act’s narrative could have also done without the alternating time-lines. My last complaint is Bateman’s own performance as an actor in his own movie. It’s a flat, somewhat distant approach that never fully connects with the audience.

Despite some fun early on as the Fangs prank unsuspecting victims while incorporating their young children into the art, this is not a comedy. The movie does have its funny moments, especially a lively Christopher Walken delivering his usual comedic brilliance. The Family Fang is a family drama about siblings finding themselves after realizing they have to stand apart from their wacky parents. It’s not a poor message but one that has been done better before.

The Family Fang has been rated R for “some language” by the MPAA. It is distributed on DVD and Blu-ray by Starz/Anchor Bay. The movie runs 106 minutes.