Director: Jason Bateman
Screenwriter: David Lindsay-Abaire
Cast: Jason Bateman, Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken
Runtime: 105 mins
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery
Review by Dave Griffiths
One of the quirkiest films of 2016 sees actor Jason Bateman step into the director’s chair for the second time and if The Family Fang is anything to go by then Bateman may well join that elite group of actors turned directors, that already contains people of the calibre of Ron Howard and Clint Eastwood, who are as equally as good no matter what side of the camera they are on. While many may be thinking that as a director Bateman may go for a comedy like Horrible Bosses he has instead delivered a well written, thinking man’s comedy.
Based on a novel by Kevin Wilson The Family Fang centres around two scarred siblings Annie Fang (Nicole Kidman – Moulin Rouge!) who has a drinking problem and her brother Baxter (Jason Bateman – Horrible Bosses) who is struggling to write his third novel. The reason both are scarred are as a result of a horrific childhood which saw the poor forced to take part in their parent’s, Caleb (Christopher Walken – The Deer Hunter) and Camille (Maryann Plunkett – Blue Valentine), works of art… which was normally pranks caught on video that thrust the family into the national spotlight.
While Annie and Baxter have been trying to avoid their parents for years, they suddenly are all forced together when Baxter is shot in the ear with a potato. When the family is back together Caleb decides that they can start their ‘art’ again but when Camille and Caleb disappear and appear to have been murdered the siblings are left trying to work out whether their parents have been killed or if this is another piece of art.
To call The Family Fang pure comedy is a little bit of a stretch. While it does have the odd humorous scene and a few one-liners that will make you smirk for a majority of the time, the film borders on being a dark drama with some well thought out moments of mystery. Again the film isn’t an ‘are the main characters going to die’ suspense but instead the audience is left wondering the same way that Annie and Baxter are to whether Camille and Caleb have faked their disappearance or actually have been murdered. The twist that the film delivers is not one that you can see coming and as a director Bateman sticks to his hand pretty well, never giving away anything until it is time for the reveal.
While the film does also going into some deep territory as it explores how a parent’s life can cause damage to their children you could never say that this is the type of film that is going to depress its audience. Instead, screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) makes sure that he delivers more than enough light moments throughout the film to keep the audience on-side. He has also done a wonderful job creating the characters that we see in the film and despite the oddities of characters like Caleb they are still very believable. The film also tackles the world wide debate of what makes good art and whether modern art is still as good as the classics… although Caleb’s take on what is art may seem a little warped to some.
The good screenplay also allows for some wonderful acting performances. Kidman does a wonderful job playing a character a lot younger than her own age, and this is another film she can add to the list of great films she has made over the past couple of years. She is well supported by Bateman who seems to be enjoying his time away from doing an outrageous comedy. The star of the show here though is Christopher Walken who expertly plays the unhinged Caleb. Whether giving his family a motivational speech, going on a rant about art or flying into a rage Walken shows why he is still one of the top actors in Hollywood in a truly memorable role.
If you have enjoyed some of the quirky films that Nicole Kidman has made over the past few years, then you are going to love The Family Fang. While it’s not so quirky that it is unbelievable, it does provide a few laughs along the way as well as one hell of a mystery.