Since experiencing a career revival on Arrested Development in 2003, Jason Bateman has been all over both movies and television. From bit parts to starring roles, he’s rarely had a year without multiple projects.
Now he’s using that clout to transition into the role of director, something he’s doing for the second time with The Family Fang.
Bateman and Nicole Kidman play Baxter and Annie Fang, a writer and an actor, respectively, who are the children of two artists, Caleb and Camille (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett), known for their elaborate artistic pranks. The two kids were often involved in the stunts growing up, which led to resentment of their parents as they got older.
When their parents disappear under mysterious circumstances, Baxter and Annie aren’t sure whether it’s another prank or whether something truly bad has happened. Their investigation leads them down a path of self-discovery and unexpected revelations.
That synopsis makes the film sound like a thriller of sorts, but the film, written by David Lindsay-Abaire, plays out like one long therapy session, as Baxter and Annie lay out their bitterness about their upbringing while also coming to terms with the perhaps tragic demise of their parents.
The fun of the movie comes in flashbacks to the family’s various pranks, which are conveniently captured on video to preserve the “art.” Although unorthodox, the parenting style of Caleb and Camille often comes off as extremely loving, a feeling at odds with what’s portrayed in the present day.
While it’s easy to make the leap between the kids enjoying the pranks when they’re young and resenting them when they’re older, the juxtaposition between the two is often jarring in the context of the film. The acrimony the kids have toward their parents seems less justified when it’s surrounded by seemingly happy memories.
Still, Bateman is able to elicit some nice performances out of his leads, including himself. The interplay between Kidman and Bateman rings true of siblings, a relationship that can sometimes be difficult to accurately portray. Also of note are Jason Butler Harner and Kathryn Hahn as the young Caleb and Camille; they put forth a joie de vivre that’s missing from the rest of the film.
The Family Fang fails to grab hold of your senses in any meaningful dramatic way, but it still deserves credit for showcasing a slice of life not often seen on the big screen.