The Family Fang

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I’ve always felt Jason Bateman was an underrated actor. Now we can add underrated director to that list. His first movie behind the camera was funny (Bad Words) and his second movie, also dealing with dysfunctional parents that have harmed their kids with their actions, is even better. Bateman does what is rather tough to pull off — combines comedy and drama very well.

In one of the best opening scenes you’ll see in a movie, a little kid robs a bank. I won’t spoil it, but it’s brilliant. And I’m not surprised. I found out this whole thing was written by David Lindsay-Abaire (based on a bestselling novel by Kevin Wilson). Lindsay-Abaire is the genius behind the sad Rabbit Hole (Aaron Eckhart, Nicole Kidman). Kidman is back in this picture, playing a popular actress that often ends up on the tabloids. Bateman also appears, as a successful writer dealing with writer’s block. Their parents (Christopher Walken, Maryann Plunkett) are performance artists. Caleb Fang’s idea of “art” is having their little kids busk on the street for change and as they’re singing a song, the parents come up (acting like strangers), yelling at the kids, telling them how bad they are at performing.

Another piece involves printing up fake coupons for a restaurant, stating that you get a free chicken sandwich. Their idea is to film as customers try to redeem them, only to be told they’re not real and don’t get the sandwiches (like a lot of their performance pieces, things go wrong). What goes more wrong, is the relationship with their kids, that continues to deteriorate.

One of the things that makes this movie so refreshing is how original it is. I was thinking about The Skeleton Twins (Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader), and how much I hated that widely praised picture. It dealt with adult siblings that had issues based on their childhood. I also thought about The Savages (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney), about adult siblings (another writer/professor) dealing with issues. That movie was good (mostly because we’re watching two of the best actors around), but there weren’t any surprises.

It’s also interesting that Bateman isn’t trying to be preachy in this film. It’s not a statement on society today, where everybody makes a video of everything and posts it on YouTube. There’s one quick scene where that’s mentioned, but this isn’t about dealing with that. They’re more interested in what harm eccentric, nutty parents can do to their kids.

The brother and sister might not have the best relationship, but they obviously care about each other.

This film is funny, touching, and even if it’s a bit unrealistic at times — you’ll enjoy the ride.

The flashbacks are all mesmerizing.

This is the type of story a director like Wes Anderson would’ve ruined.

There’s also a nice soundtrack, with Yes, Belle & Sebastian, The Beastie Boys, and a score by the always brilliant Carter Burwell.

It’s a shame that this movie is only playing at the tiny Digital Gym on El Cajon Boulevard. I recommend you catch it.

3 ½ stars out of 5.

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