Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
And you thought your family was dysfunctional. In The Family Fang (opening today), Jason Bateman stars in and directs one of the strangest films you might ever see, centering on a family that is unlike anything ever put to screen. But the oddities of the Fang family never materialize into anything worth caring about, in this fascinating yet dull movie.
The Family Fang is a drama that takes place in the present day and also in flashbacks. Caleb Fang (played by Christopher Walken, and in his younger years, by Jason Butler Harner) and his wife Camille (Maryann Plunkett, and Kathryn Hahn) are self-proclaimed "artists" who have a very niche, very strange art-form. They go around and stage "scenes" out in public that are designed to shock and "wake- up" the anonymous bystanders and onlookers. In one scene, with the help of their children that they simply refer to as "Child A" and
"Child B," they stage an armed robbery at a bank, where the young boy, Baxter, holds up a teller, before dad Caleb - dressed as a security guard - runs into the bank. When Baxter pulls the trigger on the unloaded gun, an "innocent bystander" (Camille, the wife) is shot, and her daughter, Annie, cries over her fallen body. This is all an act, of course, and Caleb films this scene and others simply to capture the reactions of those witnessing it. This spontaneous "reaction" to a given moment is what Caleb calls life...and life is his art. In another scene, Caleb explains that "art" is when he unexpectedly throws his glass on the ground and shatters it, and the reaction that follows...art is not something that is stared at or pondered over, like the glass itself in his hand.
Weird enough for you yet?
Caleb and Camille Fang have become some kind of cult celebrities, and there is one scene where two yuppies discuss their merits as artists. One thinks they are important, the other thinks they are foolish. What is art, anyways?
The story deals with the grown-up versions of Baxter (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Nicole Kidman), who are trying to live their lives despite their less-than-orthodox upbringing. Baxter is an author and Annie a tabloid-friendly C-List actress. When their parents go missing under some gruesome circumstances, Baxter believes them to be dead, but Annie believes this is just another ruse, another "artistic expression" from her eccentric parents. With Baxter's help, Annie goes on a search for discovery, to find her parents but also to find herself.
Jason Bateman is a capable leading man, but he has unfortunately not yet shed his comedic persona. This film is a straight drama, yet Bateman's presence makes it feel more like a failed comedy. We expect laughs when we see him, but they never come. It's like imagining Will Ferrell as Oscar Schindler. As a director, this film marks Bateman's second attempt, following up the 2013 comedy Bad Words, in which he also starred. This is a much better effort from a directorial standpoint, as this Fang family is not an easy group of people to represent on screen. He gets their nuances and their general gist, but misses the mark in developing any real, three- dimensional characters.
The film itself is a slow drudge, but one that admittedly kept my interest just because of how unusual it all seemed. But when a few convenient plot contrivances are introduced late in the film, I was done caring about The Family Fang.
Many of the themes in the film feel half-baked, and the characters of Annie and Baxter are just too flat. I have a feeling that Caleb Fang himself would not find this film to be art...as it most definitely feels lifeless all the way through it's anti-climactic ending.
Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Jason Bateman, Christopher Walken, Nicole Kidman, Maryann Plunkett, Kathryn Hahn, Jason Butler Harner Based on the novel by Kevin Wilson
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire (Oz the Great and Powerful, Rise of the Guardians, Rabbit Hole)
Directed by Jason Bateman (Bad Words)
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