A lesser film spends a lot of time explaining itself. A good film doesn’t have to.
Jason Bateman’s second feature directorial effort has an unusual, and to its credit original premise which it spends a great deal of effort trying to set up. Himself playing the second child to two less than garden variety parents (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett), Baxter and his fellow sibling Annie Fang (Nicole Kidman) grew up indulging their parents quasi-famous, experimental, public forms of expression.
Taking part in hoaxes and set-pieces meant to say something about society, the two outgrow it only for their parents to disappear in what could very well be another work of art, or something more sinister.
Competently acted, most notably by Bateman whose nerve-ridden brother shares a number of emotional scenes with Kidman, the film renders itself a treatise on sibling relationships more than familial ties or anything else. The pair are extremely charming together, contrasting well with an obtuse yet animated Walken, the egregiously talented actor on auto-pilot for much of the film but still pulling enough screen presence for the enigmatic role.
Packed with flashbacks and expository justifications for their actions, a scene halfway through the film where the children Fang accost the sensibilities of a less-than-liberal school administration in a staging of Romeo and Juliet imparts everything we ever needed to know wordlessly and effectively, but not before we’ve been tried with more than enough explanations and the marked absence of any significant plot developments.
Starkly, almost anything and everything which progresses the story is not detective work, nor the logical conclusions drawn from hints scattered throughout, but happenstance, opportune revelations and more deus ex machina evolutions than there are central characters in the story.
Unfolding all too conveniently for a film about unpredictable people, there’s never enough happening throughout to keep you guessing but just enough to keep you mildly confused in this novel oddity that couldn’t be saved by a top-notch cast.
The Family Fang is screening as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival on 9 August 2016 – for tickets head to the Festival website