There’s an illuminating moment late in Jason Bateman’s richly captivating film of The Family Fang, when the unorthodox patriarch played with a sardonic glint by Christopher Walken says to his adult offspring, “You think we damaged you? So what! That’s what parents do.” That’s close enough to a key to this smart, tart adaptation of Kevin Wilson’s best-selling 2011 debut novel, which thumbs its nose at the cliches of the over-trafficked dysfunctional family genre to dissect the sometimes lifelong quest of children to understand their parents in ways that are funny and bittersweet, poignant and often bracingly dark. David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
For outré performance artists, Caleb and Camille Fang, everything in life is secondary to art, including their children. Annie and Buster (popularly known as Child A. and Child B.) are the unwilling stars of their parents’ chaotically subversive work. Art is truly a family affair for the Fangs. Years later, their lives in disarray, Annie and Buster reluctantly return home in search of sanctuary—only to be caught up in one last performance.
Maureen Corrigan, NPR, adds to this:
The Fang parents aren’t faring so well, either. Historically, most of their performance pieces took place in shopping malls, where a ready audience of shocked onlookers could always be found. But these days, so many folks wall themselves off with earbuds and iPhones that the Fangs’ recent spectacles have fallen flat. As Caleb Fang laments, ‘People have become so stupid that you can’t control them.’ Camille agrees. ‘They are so resistant to any strangeness that they tune out the whole world. God, it’s so damn depressing.’
In The Family Fang film version the parents are played by Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett. And then there are the adult kids: “Baxter (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Nicole Kidman) have spent their lives in survival mode. She’s an actress and recovering alcoholic reduced to topless scenes in B flicks; he’s a failed novelist with writer’s block,” notes Rex Reed, New York Observer.
Andrew Lapin, NPR, relates important developments:
A Fang reunion in their sprawling upstate New York home is quickly followed by the sudden disappearance of the parents, and the discovery of evidence pointing to a serial killer’s handiwork. Annie is too smart to fall for that trick, and starts piecing together any shred of evidence that they faked the whole thing. We’re too smart to fall for it too, and yet the mystery of the Fang parents becomes oddly engrossing, or at least more so than the soul-searching it prompts in the children. Kidman’s character succumbs to an implausible belief that she can somehow change her parents’ essential natures until they’re all a normal family, instead of a gallery piece.
The trailer helps illustrate Baxter’s and Annie’s experiences as children:
Whereas Kyle Smith, New York Post, pans The Family Fang as one “long therapy session”—as though that’s a bad thing—plenty of others are happy with the translation from book to screen. Rex Reed, New York Observer, for example: “There’s nothing predictable about any of the angles, and [David Lindsay-] Abaire’s script reveals a surprise around every corner. The message is that if you’re in control, the chaos in life will happen around you, not to you. The performances are kinetic and fascinating.”
Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press: “Smart modern literary adaptations can too often get bogged down in whimsy. ‘The Family Fang’ plays it straight, knowing that the story is peculiar enough on its own.”
Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice: “A tense and involving dysfunction indie that starts as dark comedy but later stretches into mystery, melodrama, and arts criticism.”