Without fear of contradiction, you could safely say that The Family Fang is different to any other clans you have come across. You see, the parents are on a lifelong artistic quest, which may – and probably will – cost them their children. Let me explain …
Though they live on opposite sides of the US, Annie (Nicole Kidman) and her brother Baxter (Jason Bateman) live parallel – and highly problematic – lives. She is an actress, whose recent antics have made her more visible in the tabloids than on-screen. He is a down-on-his-luck writer, whose latest, far-fetched, freelance gig has landed him in hospital with a head injury. Through circumstances then, Annie and Baxter (called “A” and “B” by their father) return home to their eccentric parents, Caleb and Camille Fang (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett – and played in flashbacks by Kathryn Hahn and Jason Butler Harner), for a period of recovery and reconciliation. The reason these siblings are so messed up is that Caleb and Camille are no ordinary folks. Nothing about growing up in the Family Fang has prepared Annie and Baxter for life in the real world.
Widely respected and acclaimed by the avant-garde, the Fangs are radical, subversive performance artists, whose disruptive “creations” consistently shock and disturb the public, while delighting art aficionados. From earliest childhood, the Fang children have also been performers – and pawns – in their parents’ provocative pieces. Thus, they have grown up with a surplus of stimulation, but a shortage of stability. Needless to say, they are ambivalent about reuniting with their elders. Then, out of the blue, Caleb and Camille go missing, and every bit of evidence indicates that they have been victims of foul play, but have they?
The Family Fang is based upon an acclaimed, best-selling novel by Kevin Wilson, adapted for the screen by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Davis Lindsay-Abaire. It is produced by Nicole Kidman and directed by Jason Bateman. The book was embraced by both readers and literary critics. They were intrigued, entertained and disturbed by the novel’s imaginative humour, subversive drama and provocative, tragi-comic universe. While undoubtedly comedic to a point, there is a great deal of tragedy about this tale too, which is decidedly quirky.
The performances of Kidman, Bateman and Walken are strong. Kidman’s character, in particular, is a veritable force of nature, who refuses to be defined by her past experiences, but clearly she has been shaped by these. All four family members come across as troubled individuals, who appear to have stepped over the line of acceptable behaviour in search of “highs”. We quickly learn that the patriarch of the family (Walken) will stop at nothing to receive his “fix” and those closest to him pay a high price. You get the impression that his wife went along for the ride – and continues to do so – because she loves him.
Psychologically disturbing, The Family Fang nevertheless remains intriguing and engaging. Rated M, it scores a 7½ out of 10.
Director: Jason Bateman
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman, Christopher Walken, Maryann Plunkett
Release Date: 1 December 2016
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television