The Family Fang
by Hope Madden
Don’t you love Jason Bateman? And if not, why not?
His enviable comic timing guarantees his own success in any film, no matter how weak or how strong the material, but films like The Gift and State of Play clarify his underappreciated ability with dramatic roles.
Bateman’s directorial debut in 2013, Bad Words, showcased his capability at the helm, as well – muscles he flexes once more in his darkly comic take on novelist Kevin Wilson’s tale of eccentric, artistic familial dysfunction, The Family Fang.
Bateman plays Baxter Fang. Baxter and his sister Annie (Nicole Kidman) – or Child A and Child B, as their folks call them – were raised by a duo of performance artists. The present-day Mr. and Mrs. Fang are gamely played by Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett, with Kathryn Hahn and Jason Butler Harner filling in for flashbacks.
The adult siblings are struggling artists all their own – she a semi-working actor, he an author two years behind schedule on his third novel. It would appear that being the object and subject of their parents’ art throughout childhood has had an adverse effect on the pair as adults.
If you’re worried that you cannot sit through another indie film about the sins of the parents visited on their self-indulgent and/or damaged offspring, fear not.
Adapting Wilson’s text for the screen, David Lindsay-Abaire prunes and pares to offer a wise but tender rendering of the family pathos. But credit Bateman for ably maneuvering tonal shifts with a beautifully understated approach that keeps the film from ever veering into quirkiness or maudlin bitterness.
His cast (himself included) certainly never let him down. Both Plunkett and Hahn offer heartbreaking nuance as they animate the conflicted loyalty of mother/wife/artist Camille Fang. They join a full slate of admirable supporting performances.
Meanwhile Kidman and Bateman create a sweetly believable set of siblings, giving the relationship a lived in and hard won familiarity that feels both refreshing and familiar.
Big surprise, Christopher Walken is the shiniest gem in this treasure chest. At turns jocular and hostile, his narcissistic artist/father is delivered with both authenticity and panache.
A murder mystery of sorts, The Family Fang surprises and engrosses without ever feeling like the sleight of hand that made the Fangs famous.
Occasionally heartbreaking, often curious, cleverly structured and thoughtfully executed, this impressive sophomore directorial effort from Bateman keeps you guessing – at how things will work out for the Fangs, and at what may be next for this impressive filmmaker.