The Family Fang (2016)
dir. Jason Bateman
written by: David Lindsay-Abaire
starring: Jason Bateman, Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken, Maryann Plunkett, Jason Butler Harner, Kathryn Hahn
3.5 out of 4 stars
During a four and a half year stint at the sole Barnes & Noble in the underread state of West Virginia, determining the adaptability of novels was a favorite speculation among my coworkers. The Leftovers was correctly predicted to be an HBO series before the official release of the book, an advanced copy cycled through the Tom Perrotta fans rapidly. Expectations for the Millennium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, et. al.) were discussed at length, the quality of Lizbeth Salander’s characterization greatly affected a handful of coworkers deeply. A smaller release that sparked the most discussion for me was The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson. The story of the troubled adult children of famous performance artists returning home amid personal crises riped before my eyes. Formulating plot structure surround The YouTube Generation and inhaling the toxic, dissatisfied parental relationship, I wanted this to be my breakout into screenwriting; notes were even taken! Little did I know a Pulitzer prize winner was going to be me to it.
David Lindsay-Abaire, who penned the Pulitzer winning play and movie screenplay for Rabbit Hole (I must mention he also wrote some cringe worthy children’s entertainment, if you want to check out his filmography), filled in for my debut with an infuriatingly wonderful adaptation. Deviating from the source novel just enough, we still find Annie and Baxter Fang (Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman, respectively) returning to their childhood home amid injuries, both physical and professional. Struggling to avoid becoming “Child A & B” in their parent’s latest schemes, the Fang’s relive the reason behind their parental disassociation; a lifetime under Caleb and Camille Fang’s (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett, respectively) artistic ventures has left them starved for normalcy. When those parent’s vanish in very Fang-style dramatization, Annie attempts to call their bluff, and Baxter aims to avoid the spectacle. Their journey reveals more of their relationship with their parents than could be imagined.
Comedic actor Jason Bateman takes his second directing venture with this movie, following 2013’s mild flop Bad Words. Growing into this style, he guides his film into the right understated path. Capitalizing on the absurdity of the past, the Fang’s current existence of earth tones and suburbia lend to the children’s disbelief at returning home for a much dreaded visit with their past-their-prime artist parents. The laughs come on strong when in opposition to the family’s crumbling exterior; the clashes on artistic integrity burn, but the jabs at parental incompetence hit hard, particularly for the disinterest in one parent and the pain in another. Bateman disallows character motive and determination to shift, but he avoids any one-note performances. His years as an actor have proven him capable of managing Oscar winners and child actors alike.
Directing himself and Nicole Kidman in the lead roles took none of the missteps I predicted. Though Baxter is less lost than in the novel, Bateman does not place himself as an infallible man, such as Chris Evan’s did in Before We Go. Baxter is damaged, and along with Bateman’s well loved comedic charm, he allows the character to live with the disappointment as a pawn in his parent’s work. Nicole Kidman feels younger and more lively than she has in years! Reminded of her vitality in To Die For, without the malicious intent, Kidman is fierce in her words and actions. Annie is attempting to storm through this trying period, playing mother to her younger brother where their actual mother always seemed disinterested. After a lifetime of living under her Child A beginnings, Annie is eager to disprove the antics of her self-important parents.
Christopher Walken shines as the father and mastermind of the Fang troupe. Wiry and wily with enough rage to display Caleb’s endless dissatisfaction with his career, Walken creates disdain with his portrait of a father who treats his offspring more like grad students or interns than family. The maternal influence of Maryann Plunkett as Camille finds the heart behind this family. Defensive of every member and self-sacrificing in her artistic and familial ventures, Plunkett nails every scene. Shocked and devoted to an off balance husband, even her own passions are hidden to avoid his disapproval. This is a woman lived for others and for their public. She defends the missteps of the past and the same instant she apologizes for the successes she helped create. She has compromised her entire life, and Maryann Plunkett has emblazoned this strife onto her characters every following action. A sheer stunner that her lowest level celebrity can outshine the huge names sharing the screen.
Despite jealousy providing low expectations for this project, I must heap ample acclaim. David Lindsay-Abaire trimmed and rearranged the family dramedy, and Bateman managed the comedy with understated charm. A fine example of elevating a movie beyond its source, I’m pleased as can be they didn’t screw up my movie.