An adaptation of Kevin Wilson’s 2011 novel of the same name, The Family Fang is Jason Bateman’s second directorial feature, and follows Baxter Fang (Bateman), a novelist and journalist suffering serious writer’s block, and his sister, Annie (Nicole Kidman), a struggling actress. The son and daughter of controversial performance artists Caleb (Christopher Walken/Jason Butler Harner) and Camille Fang (Maryann Plunkett/Kathryn Hahn), the two were forced throughout their entire childhood to participate in their parents’ staged performance art projects, often finding themselves in bizarre and downright chaotic situations. Though estranged from their parents after years of public humiliation, the siblings must confront their various childhood traumas after learning that their parents may have been violently abducted.
There’s a lot to appreciate and admire about The Family Fang, and much like his 2013 dark-comedy, Bad Words, Bateman has proven himself to be quite the talent behind the camera. Though it showcases Bateman’s dry-sense of humor, the film is very much a drama at its heart, and unlike the sometimes quirky, off-putting scenarios often seen in lesser dysfunctional family dramas like The Royal Tenenbaums or August: Osage County, the antics of the Fang family, whether they be a mock bank robbery or a gender-swapped beauty pageant, actually serve a purpose in the development of the characters.
The film does a great job of showing the deep and lasting trauma that Annie and Baxter suffered when under the control of their parents, particularly their father, who, despite fancying himself an artist and a free spirit, is so obviously heartless in the manipulation of his children. Walken is exceptionally well cast as the domineering patriarch of the Fang family, managing to effortlessly switch from an aloof, jesting personality to one of strikingly brutal cruelty. His dynamic with Plunkett’s Camille is also fantastic to watch, and though Plunkett’s performance is slightly more reserved than Walken’s, it is no less fascinating as it highlights the decades of obvious resentment that has grown between the two.
While Walken and Plunkett are exceptional in every scene that they are in, it’s Kidman who delivers the powerhouse performance of the film. Kidman perfectly masks the obvious anger of her character with a façade of placidity. Though always trying to appear calm, whether it’s in a scene with her parents or not, her character’s internal rage and feelings of bitterness immediately come across. Her onscreen chemistry with Bateman is also very strong, and the film has no trouble selling the loving relationship between the two, particularly during the moments when they talk about their shared childhood experiences and discussions of whether it matters if their parents are dead or not.
Overall, The Family Fang is a well-acted and thought provoking look into the complicated and often estranged relationships within a family. It excels in its presentation of a loving sibling relationship, showing just how powerful a bond between brothers and sisters can be when often faced with misfortune or past traumas.
Arbitrary Rating: 8 out of 10 awkward family dinners.
The Family Fang is currently in select theatres nationwide.