The Family Fang (2015)

  • Time: 105 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama | Mystery
  • Director: Jason Bateman
  • Cast: Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman, Christopher Walken, Kathryn Hahn


Annie and Baxter, the adult children of the controversial husband and wife conceptual performance art couple famous for their quirky macabre public performances, have never got over the fact that their parents kept using them during their childhood in their often gory and disturbing satirical public performances. They often clash with their now elderly parents over this and blame them for their problems in their adult life. However, the two become worried when they’re told by the police that their parents have gone missing during their trip outside of town. The brother considers the possibility that something horrible might have happened to them, but the sister is convinced that it’s just another one of their stupid games or twisted conceptual performances. She convinces him that they should go and look for them themselves.

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  • There are dysfunctional families and there is The Family Fang. Comprised of Caleb (Christopher Walken), Camille (Maryann Plunkett) and their children Annie (Nicole Kidman) and Baxter (Jason Bateman), the Fangs are famous for creating improvised public events that incorporate their children into the artwork.

    One such event involves the young Baxter holding up a bank teller for a container of lollipops. A cop springs into action at the sight of the boy’s gun, a bullet is fired, an innocent female bystander is hit, her daughter wails as blood pools out. The boy tastes the blood – “It’s just like maple syrup!” – and the family Fang break into laughter, adding to the confusion of the people around them.

    What exactly have they witnessed? Caleb would emphatically declare it art. Art by disruption, all the better to experience the moment because the moment is the art. Yet is carrying your infant past roller skaters whilst you’re essentially a human firework count as art? How about if you sabotage a beauty pageant, or heckle your children in Central Park as they perform a stunningly tuneless song called “Kill All Parents”? The art world is divided – admirers believe the acts are Dadaist commentaries, detractors point out that attaching a statement doesn’t make something art.

    As children, Annie and Baxter were all too wiling to participate – it’s make-believe writ large – but when one of Caleb’s scenarios goes too far, the siblings soon realise that their parents, particularly Caleb, might care more about them as actors than actual flesh and blood people. As adults, Annie and Baxter bear the scars of their eccentric and neglectful parenting. She’s an actress trying to shake off her reputation as a wild child, he’s a writer stalled in the midst of his latest novel. When Baxter is injured by a potato gun during a magazine assignment, the family gather together with conflicting agendas – Caleb and Camille keen on bringing their children back into the act, Annie and Baxter eager to rid themselves of their emotional insecurities and move on with their lives.

    Adapted from Kevin Wilson’s novel by David Lindsay-Abaire, The Family Fang has illuminating insights about the way in which parents damage their children (“That’s what parents do,” Caleb says dismissively), how children strive to understand their parents, how dangerous it can be for art to bleed into life and vice versa, and how easy it can be to sacrifice oneself when pulled into someone’s orbit. Caleb is a deeply monstrous figure, deeming it a personal betrayal when his children no longer want to commit to his art. Walken has often been utilised for his unique characteristics – the affectless delivery, the glassy yet piercing stare – almost to the point of self-parody, so it’s extremely heartening to find him craft a performance that is not solely Walkenesque in dimension.

    Bateman’s newfound maturity manifests itself not only in his direction (The Family Fang is a vast improvement over his debut feature, Bad Words) but in his acting as well. There’s a melancholy that meshes well with the sardonicism, and he has a very convincing rapport with Kidman. The actress does some of her finest work as Annie, displaying levels of earthiness and anxiety heretofore unseen from her.

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