'The Family Fang'
A few years ago, Jason Bateman tried his hand at directing and did such a good job mounting the bad behavior comedy ‘Bad Words‘ that no one made fun of him for it. Now Bateman has returned with a far more ambitious dark comedy about the pain and value of having a dysfunctional family. It’s starting to feel like calling Jason Bateman a filmmaker won’t seem strange much longer.
Bateman stars alongside Nicole Kidman as Buster and Annie Fang, a burned-out writer and actress hitting middle age in a funk. A big part of the disappointment of their adult lives stems from a childhood spent as muses for their performance artist parents (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett). As director, Bateman has a ball staging the weird family art stunts of their youth, but it’s pretty clear that the way the parents used the children for their art (referring to them as “A” and “B” for much of their lives) wasn’t exactly the most effective parenting technique. An unfortunate accident involving alcohol, a potato gun and Buster’s head brings the family back together for an awkward reunion. No sooner do they reunite than the parents go missing, presumed dead. Of course, given their performance art ways, the kids can’t be sure if that actually happened.
Though plenty of nasty laughs punctuate ‘The Family Fang’, the movie is a far more serious endeavor for Bateman. It’s a bleak comedy with humor that comes through mountains of pain. The film has some rather insightful things to say about the damage that parents inevitably inflict on their children and the good and bad that come from that process. The art stunts make for an amusing outlet for the concept, while the central death mystery provides enough momentum for Bateman to tease out his painful ideas in a film that still never ceases to be entertaining (as long as you share a suitably sick sense of humor, of course).
The acting is also fantastic from top to bottom. Bateman does his thing, Kidman gets a welcome break from her ice queen roles to play a manic mess, Plunkett shows immense sadness beneath a quiet exterior, and Walken departs from his usual self-parody to play a damaged man who thinks he’s doing right. It’s a movie about that moment when one’s parents stop seeming like impossibly strong authority figures and are revealed to be fucked-up people just as lost as their children. That insight is always jarring no matter what age it hits you, and Bateman milks it for many melancholy laughs.
It’s unlikely that this sophomore effort will make nearly as much money as Bateman’s debut did, but it demonstrates that he has some range and skill as a filmmaker that he’ll hopefully be able to stretch even further in his next directorial effort.