Life’s a joke anyway. So yeah, make some stuff up while you’re at it.
Ever since they were just little kids, Buster and Annie Fang (Jason Bateman and Nicole Kidman) have always felt like they were a part of some big joke in life and never really their own person. Most of this was due to the fact that their parents were well-known con artists that would sometimes stage crazy, nearly dangerous scenes in real life, and more often than not, it was Buster and Annie who were usually huge parts of making sure that the elaborate scams went into play. Now, many years later, Buster and Annie are having a bit of trouble adjusting to their adult-lives, with their own careers; Buster is a writer who had one good book, one bad one, and can’t seem to make up his mind about what he wants to do with this next one, whereas with Annie, she’s a mediocre actress who, for the first time ever, just did a nude scene. And even though Annie and Buster have changed an awful lot, believe it or not, their parents are still the same as they used to be, thinking of new and exciting ways to screw with the people around them. However, when they both go missing, Buster and Annie don’t quite know what to make of it. Do they take it as serious and actually face the fact that they may be lost out there in the world? Or, do they take it as another one of their long-running gags that they’re using as a way to be “artistic”?
What’s interesting about the Family Fang is that even though you’d automatically assume that this is, yet again, another drab, depressing and pretentious piece of Sundance-filmmaking, surprisingly enough, it doesn’t turn out that way. This is probably due to the fact that behind the camera, is none other than Jason Bateman himself. Rather than drowning in the sorrow and misery that can sometimes seems all that’s inside of these characters, Bateman does decide to go for a lighter, sometimes funnier-route, where we’re laughing more at the fact of how weird this family-dynamic is, rather than laughing along with it.
Trust me, there’s a big distinction.
There’s a solid blend between the comedy and drama here that, while I thought worked in Bateman’s directorial debut, Bad Words, still works here, but on a much smaller and subdued scale. Bateman isn’t demanding our emotions, nor is he trying to ask for us to love him, the movie, or these characters – he’s just giving us a story that may be a bit odd, but still resonates because, at the end of the day, it’s really about family, love and finding your true self. Sure, it’s most definitely corny, but Bateman finds a way to get to these themes and messages without overplaying his hand too much to where it feels like cues a movie like this takes.
And then yeah, his performance as Buster is pretty solid, too. For once, it seems like Bateman himself has found that perfect balance between the both sides of his persona. While we’ve seen him try to be dark, dramatic and serious before, more often than not, it feels as if he may just be making a statement about it, or the movies themselves haven’t been that good to really keep up with what he was doing (the Gift is the very, very rare exception). Here, as Buster, Bateman finds just the right sweet spot to where we see this character as a very serious person, but by the same token, still someone who can make a wisecrack every so often, just as Jason Bateman characters tend to do.
But as good as Bateman is in the role, it was really nice to see Nicole Kidman get a good role to work with as Annie. While Kidman has been one of the best actresses working today, lately, it seems as if she hasn’t been given a role worthy of her immense talents; there’s been some brief, bright and shining moments of that old light that used to shine all of the time, no matter what project she took up, but unfortunately, not as many around to where I’ve gotten excited about seeing her name pop-up for something. However, as Annie, Kidman gets a chance to show off her more funnier-skills as an actress, as well as remind people that she can, yes, act dramatically.
She and Bateman do that both very well, which is why their dynamic as a brother and sister, works quite well.
If anything, too, it’s actually damn relatable. Given that the story itself may be a bit on the weird side, the fact that Bateman is able to make it appear like the Fangs are just like any other family out there in the world, is a true testament to the kind of director he could be, with more and more time behind the camera. We get a sense of who these characters are, what they’re all about, and while it may come-off as a bit unbelievable, the movie still makes an effort to allow us to see them for all that they are.
It sounds really tedious, I know, but certain attention to characters and their relationships to one another is, unfortunately, often times, too rare to find around these days. Bateman does that right and then some, allowing for his talented cast to work with the material as much as they are able and willing to. Even though he has maybe only 15 minutes in the whole film, Christopher Walken leaves a lasting impression as the Fang father, who may or may not be a total dick for what he made his kids do when they were younger. But because it’s Christopher Walken, you start to think of him less as a “good guy”, or “bad guy”, but more of just “a guy”, and that’s the true greatness of the Family Fang.
Wow. Did I really like it that much? Guess so.
Consensus: The Family Fang benefits from the fact that Jason Bateman is a capable enough director to balance out heart, humor and character detail, to where everything and everyone gets their time to shine in subtle, but effective ways.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire