Saturday movie review: The Family Fang

Jason Bateman is an amazing director. His most recent go at the role, THE FAMILY FANG, confirms his name should be prominently and permanently emblazoned across an on-set Director chair.

That's it. That's all you need to know about THE FAMILY FANG. End of review.

the family fang

Okay, okay. You deserve to know more about THE FAMILY FANG. And Jason Bateman deserves for you to know more about the quiet, quirky, independent film he directed. And stars in. With Nicole Kidman. And Christopher Walken. And Maryann Plunkett, who deserves far more notice (and roles) than she seems to get.

In THE FAMILY FANG, Camille and Caleb Fang (Kathryn Hahn and Jason Butler Harner in their younger years; Plunkett and Walken in the current period) are performance artists and parents of Baxter (Bateman) and his older sister, Annie (Kidman). The dysfunctional and eccentric yet loyal and loving family participate together in Caleb's macabre public performance pieces that shock and surprise bystanders — and often border on mean and/or pathetic. Quick displays akin to flash mobs, minus the music, joy, and warm fuzzies showered upon unsuspecting viewers.

The dark comedy begins with the Fang family preparing and pulling off, well, a bank robbery of sorts. Flash forward to the current day. Baxter, a novelist struggling with writer's block, and Annie, an actor who's just plain struggling personally and professionally, find themselves sucked back into the wacky world of their possibly insane parents, a world they've spent decades trying to escape from its emotional aftereffects.

Then something bad happens to Mom and Dad, and Baxter and Annie are left to unravel the truth and what it might mean for their family.

THE FAMILY FANG intrigued from beginningn to end. First, wondering what the heck was up with this weird family, then the rest of the way through my husband and I wondered what the heck was up with the missing parents. Were they really dead? Were the really pulling off another prank, this one of epic proportion. Bateman as Baxter utters the line that sums up the options for either outcome stating how horrible it would be if they were dead, but it would be even worse if they were pretending to be dead to the extent that they never saw their own children again.

Regarding Bateman's performance, not only is he a great director, he's turned out to be one amazing dramatic actor, too. He can be funny, goofy, charming, silly in comedies and lighter film fare and television bits. I think he does his very best work in dramatic roles, though, such as in DISCONNECT, THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU, and, of course, this one. In THE FAMILY FANG, just like in previous dramas, Bateman can make the most simple of statements hold the weight of the world in a way I've not seen other actors do. With a slight smirk or tilt of the head, he expresses poignancy or pain or disbelief or an inexplicable WTF is happening here? sort of sentiment that complements — or, sometimes, intentionally contradicts — dialogue that if delivered simply straight from the page wouldn't pack nearly as strong of a punch. The guy is special, and that's no giggly fan-girl assertion from a teen with a poster of the star director/actor/cool dude thumbtacked on my bedroom wall. 

I daresay Annie Fang is my favorite role of Nicole Kidman's. She and her roles often get under my skin — with the exception of TO DIE FOR, which I loved! — but here, as Annie, she's delightfully dysfunctional though seriously depressed and lost. Her Annie impressively teeters near being over-the-top wacked out yet ultimately she's simply sad and struggling with adulthood. And sweet to her little brother who is the only who understands what she's been through. 

Christopher Walken perfectly plays a mean dad who doesn't seem to realize (or care) how very cruel — emotionally — he is. Same goes for the kind of husband Caleb is to Camille. And Puckett's Camille? Wow! Such a lovely, understated performance. Camille scrunched up my heart in significant ways as she was committed to her husband and playing by his rules, despite how much it hurt her kids... and herself.

Here Bateman discusses the film and his dual role as director and actor:

THE FAMILY FANG is based on the 2011 novel of the same name by Kevin Wilson (the screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire. I wish I had read the novel as it's the kind of story I love, love, love: dark humor, dysfunctional families, poignant parts that pinch up my heart muscle. Yet I never heard of the book before the film. I'm not sure when or where I even heard about the film. I'm delighted I did, though, am so glad I added it to my Netflix queue. (You should, too!)

THE FAMILY FANG (rated R "for some language") opened in theaters this past April. It's now available on DVD and some streaming services.