The Family Fang (2016)

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“If you’re in control, then the chaos will happen around you and not to you.”

After sitting through Jason Bateman’s previous directorial effort, 2013’s slandering and loud-mouthed Bad Words, I came into his latest movie with tempered hopes of him side-stepping the standard sophomore slump. Unfortunately, with The Family Fang he’s careened off the path most traveled and become stuck in a ditch of pretension, falling for the most suspecting clichés of indie filmmaking hook, line, and sinker. It’s a condemning issue that comes by the story’s own hand, favoring cheap color commentary on the value of art over the paramount development of rich, intriguing characters. Important questions are raised by people who are not worth troubling over.

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The Fang siblings are made up respected author Baxter (Bateman) and tabloid covergirl actress Annie (Nicole Kidman), raised under the tutelage of world-famous shock artists Caleb (Christopher Walken) and Camille (Maryann Plunkett). The Fang’s are known around the world for infiltrating crowd spaces, setting up a an excitable situation, and gauging the emotional response. A bloody bank heist, awkward children’s play, bad encounter with street musicians. Anything they can manipulate to satiate their expressive pieces, none of which are very interesting, a few completely implausible. However corny it may sound, The Family Fang bites off way more than it’s able to chew, choking and gagging and suffocating in the process.

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Because of its underwhelming script, every character has a flaw that goes unearthed. Hints that Baxter pops pills. Rumors of Annie’s drinking. Caleb’s narcissism. Camille’s undying commitment. These are individuals defined by the past instead of allowing them to grow in the present. There’s a chance that could have worked too, if only Bateman had been able to hone in on his tone. Plenty of itty bitty movies about the dysfunctional and quirky family exist because it’s a pretty easy thing to do. The writer just has to embellish real people. Think Little Miss Sunshine, Junebug, Home for the Holidays. Those films span more than a decade in release dates and they all utilize the same theme: a disgruntled unity. The Family Fang falls apart because it is so dismissive, so hell-bent on slicing itself in half.

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The Family Fang doesn’t know what it’s chasing. Revolutions, remarks, rebuttals, something else? Its heart goes cold, quietly dying beneath the layers of squawking drama and unwarranted familial rifts. Admittedly, Bateman has learned to compose better images; occasionally the frames infer feeling. But I’m still not sure that he’s competent as a director. Take the film’s closing image for example. In the span of 30 seconds, he flashes back and forth between his own face and Kidman’s 8 times. That’s horrible direction, and indicative of a story devoid of depth. The Family Fang goes after unjustifiable artistic criticism, mistakenly committing too many flubs to ever be taken seriously.

“Is it art or a joke? Is it profound or is it a prank? Are they geniuses or Charlatans?”

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

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