Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Talking Tribeca: The Family Fang

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 13th-24th.

The Family Fang
Directed by Jason Bateman
Festival Screenings

You might think your parents are weird or embarrassing, but you’ve got nothing on the Fangs. Caleb and Camille Fang consider themselves performance artists, staging extravagant pranks in public places with no express aim other than to show the world that such an event is possible. One such prank displayed early in the film involves a staged bank robbery and death of a young child’s mother, while another is as simple as a fancy family photo showing the whole family with blood dripping out of their mouths. Corrupted by being forced to play a part in a number of these pranks, the adult Fang children take center stage in “The Family Fang” to try to make sense of their lives.

Annie (Nicole Kidman) and Baxter (Jason Bateman) are the adult versions of the Fang children. Annie is an actress known for diva behavior, while Baxter is an author getting nowhere on his second book. Their parents make plenty of appearances in flashbacks to earlier pranks, in which they are portrayed by Jason Butler Harner and Kathryn Hahn, and then rejoin the story after Baxter is injured while writing a magazine piece, now played by Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett. The sudden disappearance of their parents prompt the police to think they may have been murdered, and Annie and Baxter spiral into a maddening search for answers about what they thought they knew their whole lives.

Bateman is an actor known for his understated straight man portrayals in “Arrested Development” and a number of films since then. This is his second time behind the camera, after 2013’s “Bad Words,” and here he helms an adaptation of Kevin Wilson’s popular 2011 novel. Casting Kidman as Bateman’s onscreen sibling is a terrific choice since the two contrast and complement each other very well. The two pairs of actors who step in as their parents are particularly great, and the sedated joy they get out of showing the world what they can pull off is magnificent to watch.

This is an unapologetically bizarre film. Events like Baxter being shot in the head with a potato gun aren’t even the most ridiculous. Some of the film’s developments are meant to show more about the characters than they do about the society meant to experience the pranks, like when Caleb becomes infuriated after his handing out fake coupons for a free sandwich in front of a chicken stand leads to the employees behind the counter honoring them rather than citing their invalidity. The film’s tone shifts considerably throughout the film, wavering from fully comedic to hauntingly serious. It’s hard to break this film down and figure out how to come away from it, but it’s certainly an eye-opening and entertaining watch.


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