49. The Family Fang

Here we go again.  Here we have another movie that, much like A Hologram for the King, would have had pretty strong mainstream appeal if not for its virtually nonexistent shoestring budget and, therefore, invisible marketing campaign.  The Family Fang has everything casual moviegoers like in their lowkey alternatives to big-budget fare.  It’s got comedy, drama, mystery, recognizable faces, and a palatable runtime.  Plus, it’s well-balanced and a pretty great film on top of it.

The Family Fang is star Jason Bateman’s sophomore directing effort (if we’re only counting films).  He’s come a long way since Silver Spoons and Teen Wolf Too.  I truly admire Bateman and his ability to stay relevant for such a long time.  He is professionally self-aware, knowing and embracing his strengths yet also willing to venture outside of his comfort zone.  He does a little of both here and he succeeds in both his directing effort and his turn as co-lead.  As director, Bateman injects a relatable humanity, as we all know what a struggle it can sometimes be to deal with family.  Here, though, several additional layers are added into the mix, making this particular family anything but average.  As costar, well . . . nobody does dry humor better than Jason Bateman.  He is the unequivocal master of it.  But, as Baxter Fang, his internal plight breaches the surface as well and he serves perfectly as an audience surrogate.

One of the primary reasons that I made a point of seeing The Family Fang is the other co-lead, Nicole Kidman.  I’ve been a fan of hers for a long, long time (I mean, come on.  As much as I love Jim Carrey, she was pretty much the best thing about Batman Forever and the strongest incentive to re-watch it, nowadays.) and I wanted her to be a part of my 2016 March to 100.  Playing Annie Fang, an actress who’s having trouble staying at the forefront of her profession as she ages, I imagine that Kidman found something to sink her teeth into here.  She plays it perfectly, very restrained and subdued until Annie reaches her natural breaking point.  It’s an unforced, organic process and Kidman’s effortless honest performance really sells the entire film to the audience.  I would love to see her in more roles (I’m going to try to see Genius if my schedule permits) because she’s still among the best in the business.

Then, we have Christopher Walken.  As long as he’s been in Hollywood and as many excellent roles as he’s had, I can’t help that my first thought of him always goes back to the greatest non-Michael Jackson music video ever made (and, yes, I just paused writing this for four minutes to watch it, again).  But he never fails to entertain and he’s perfectly cast in Fang.  In my last post, I talked about a director who put himself (the artist) ahead of his art.  Walken plays a man who puts his art ahead of everything else in his life, including his family.  Walken projects the perfect combination of callousness and insanity in order to pull it off flawlessly.

The Family Fang falls under the umbrella of what I’ve often referred to (rather uncreatively, I suppose) as a Life Movie.  Life isn’t just a comedy or a drama or dialogue or action but a combination of all of these things.  And that’s what I call a “Life Movie”; it’s a film that imitates life in the sense that it can’t be easily classified as, or pigeonholed into, a single genre because it incorporates several of them into one coherent, flowing package.  If this film had been advertised in any significant way, whatsoever, I have little doubt that it would have found an audience.  I suggest you try to see it.

“But I can’t go the movies!” you say.  “I don’t have time!”  “The schedule doesn’t work for me!”  “It’s too expensive!”  “Another excuse!”  Okay, hey, no problem!  I’ve got you covered!  You don’t have to go to the local theater to see The Family Fang because it’s available digitally right now!  So, go (or stay?)!  Watch!  Support the small little films made by top talent that just don’t have the money to advertise during Monday Night Football or whatever sport is going, right now.  I think you’ll enjoy yourself.

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