Jason Bateman has had quite the career. Starting out as an actor when he was a young lad of eleven he has been working constantly since, breaking out into the realm of directing in 2013 with the well-received but seldom seen Bad Words. His next project which he directs, stars in and produces is The Family Fang, based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Kevin Wilson.
This is the story of the Fang family. Twenty years ago the parents were world renowned avant-garde artists whose performance pieces were a bit like Youtube prank videos but years before Youtube was a thing. The children were used as pawns in their game, acting as pieces of their performances which occasionally crossed the line of acceptable art to stuff that was a little bit creepy. For example, one of their pieces was the children busking in New York’s Central Park and waiting to see how the public would react at two rascally children singing songs about murdering their parents.
Cut to twenty years later, the children are all grown up and their lives aren’t going as well as they had hoped for. Annie (Nicole Kidman) is an actress on a B-grade film set and Baxter (Jason Bateman) is a writer. Their now elderly parents (Maryann Plunkett and Christopher Walken) are still trying to perform their strange art pieces but their ever increasing old age is making this a struggle. It’s when the parents disappear that things get interesting. No one, especially Annie and Baxter, can figure out if this is part of one of their art pieces or if something genuinely terrible has happened to them.
Bateman has crafted a film that is above all a very interesting meditation on art. What is or isn’t art is one of the oldest and most unanswerable questions mankind has to offer, so it’s great to see a film tackle this premise but still manage to tell a good story around it. Is what the Fang parents do art or is it just pretentious claptrap that they’ve convinced themselves is brilliant? Was it ethical to bring their children along and make them part of the act? All these questions are brought up but not really answered; it’s up to the viewer to make up his/her own mind.
Performances are the highlight of the piece and Bateman brings out the best from his cast. For all his appearances on the comedy circuit it’s easy to forget that when Bateman tries his hand at serious roles he’s really good at them. Christopher Walken is one of the greatest actors of all time and seeing him stealing scenes at the age of 73 makes you appreciate just how good he really is, playing a character who after so many years of spouting pretentious crap about the brilliance of his art seems to have started believing it.
Nicole Kidman… Well, the queen of the thousand yard stare does what she does best. She stares off into the distance and shows off her uncanny ability to not move her cheekbones. We all know what a Nicole Kidman performance looks like and this is pretty much that.
Apart for the final twenty minutes when the film completely loses the momentum it has built up and reveals its very basic and shallow twist, The Family Fang is a very interesting piece that deals with some fascinating themes. Jason Bateman has had a stellar career and seeing what he can do in the director’s chair makes it all the more intriguing to see where he goes from here.
The Family Fang is in cinemas from 1st December through Sony Pictures.