I have to say I really admired Jason Bateman’s wickedly funny feature directorial debut, Bad Words and now he has followed it up with another winning indie, although the focus is on a dysfunctional family mystery this time around.
He and Nicole Kidman play siblings whose childhood was unique to say the least. They were sucked into their parents’ lifestyle as renowned performance artists, helping to stage phony bank robberies or disrupting beauty pageants. Although it might seem innocent enough – the family that plays together stays together kind of thing – it is anything but, and eventually both brother and sister escape the gigs and their parents’ grasp setting off on their own. Both avoid dealing with their past. Kidman’s character Annie tries a largely unsuccessful acting career, while Bateman’s Baxter is a frustrated writer. But a mysterious situation brings them back to their family home where their parents appear to be victims of foul play. Or were they? Is it just another elaborate ruse? This sets the pair on a quest to find out what happened, and along the way they discover much more than they bargained for.
As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), Bateman is becoming as talented behind the camera as he is in front, although this is a very small and modest effort. It’s constantly intriguing and has a strong script from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, who also wrote the unforgettable film adaptation of his play Rabbit Hole starring and produced by Kidman. He’s a very good choice to adapt Kevin Wilson’s 2011 novel and the dialogue mostly crackles. Bateman nicely pulls off the tricky task of directing himself and delivers a portrayal of great subtlety. Kidman has her best screen out I think since Rabbit Hole earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination, and the role itself is understated and perfectly pitched. This is an actress that just keeps working and keeps impressing me more all the time with her choices of material. As the parents, Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett could not be better, with Walken cutting right to the chase in another quirky but memorable turn.
Although the gimmick, as it were, of a family working together as performance artists is a fun one, this movie has much more on its mind and really ultimately dissects what a family is, even with all the deception and dysfunction that can tear us apart along the way. The kid actors who play Annie and Baxter as young children also nail the roles and those flashback scenes are fun to watch. Bateman and Kidman are both producers on this film as well, along with James Garavente, Leslie Urdang, Riva Marker, Per Saari, Daniela Taplin Lundberg and Dean Vanech.
Starz Digital Media opened The Family Fang, which recently played Tribeca Film Festival and was acquired out of last fall’s Toronto International Film Festival, in a one-theater New York run last weekend where it did nicely ahead of this weekend’s 40-market debut (including L.A.) and VOD launch. However you can find it, it is worth checking out, another high water mark for both Bateman and Kidman.
Do you plan to see The Family Fang? Let us know what you think.