HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: The Family Fang
HTS Overall Score:57
Jason Bateman is one of those Hollywood actors that I follow closely. He started out in the public eye as just another comedic actor in films like “Horrible Bosses” after a fairly long career in television. However, it’s been more recently that the actor has branched out into directing and starring in more indie films that stretch his dramatic side as well as blending in his traditional trademarked black comedy. I absolutely loved “Bad Words” as his feature film directorial debut which meant that I was eagerly waiting for “The Family Fang” as his sophomore effort in the big chair. I have conflicting emotions about the indie film, and wonder if Bateman would do better with a different script writer, or if he just stumbled over his own feet trying to make a quirky yet poignantly bitter look on family life. I see instances of greatness making its way through the muddles film, but those are mired in long periods of boredom and poor writing.
They say that the essence of life is art, but sometimes that obsession with art can completely destroy the life you have. This rings true for the Fang family. A set of parents and the children who grew up with that type of art dominating their life. Caleb and Camille Fang (played by Jason Butler Harner and Kathryn Hahn in flashbacks, and Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett in the present) were two shock artists who utilized their two young children (nicknamed Child A and Child B by their parents) to perpetuate “artistic” events across the country. These ranged from staging apparent murders, obstructing a skating rink to prove a point, and wrecking a child beauty pageant. All under the camera and then publicized as “art”. Child A and Child B, otherwise known as Annie (Nicole Kidman) and Baxter (Jason Bateman), have all grown up and severed the ties and holds their parents had on their lives. Baxter is a struggling writer who failed at his second attempt at a novel and has writer’s block for this third one, while Annie is a midlevel actress whose career is spiraling into the gutter as she medicates and drinks herself into oblivion.
Their messed up lives take a drastic change when Camille and Caleb’s car is found on the side of the road with blood all over it and no note, no nothing, letting anyone know where they are. The police are thinking that it’s a murder as several other murders and kidnappings have taken place in the same location, but Annie and Baxter are dead certain that this is nothing more than a giant stunt for another piece of “art”. Baxter is willing to consider the possibility that maybe their parents are gone, but Annie fastidiously and ferociously looks under every rock and corner of their existence in order to prove that once more, their wonderful parents are waiting to jump out from around a corner and yell “surprise”! What they find out may be more disturbing and more twisted than anything the children have experienced from their parents yet.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=74345[/img]“The Family Fang” is a strange look at a dysfunctional family. While slightly comedic and dark on the surface, it’s even more dark and disturbing once you peel back the layers and look at the maggots underneath. Annie and Baxter are suffering in their lives as adults, having been used and manipulated by their parents for decades. They were less children and more puppets or artistic clay to mold for Camille and Caleb’s shock art. Even to this day they’re hounded by their parents to act in their next great display for the world and the two children are paying for it. Haunted by parents who just won’t BE parents, their lives revolve around guilt and shame for not being there for the two artists. Now that Caleb and Camille are seemingly gone, they have a chance to find out what they’re really made of.
I wanted to like “The Family Fang” more than I did, and I think that was mainly due to the weak script. Bateman handles the familial relationships, both on and off screen, with a delicacy that is impressive to watch. However sometimes you can see where the simplistic script writing and broken plot points leave much to be desired. The characters in the film are all highly dysfunctional, and many unlikeable by the end, but you can tell that Bateman was struggling to pull more depth out of the characters that what was provided him. His role as Baxter was the highlight of the film (besides Christopher Walken BEING Christopher Walken) and he adds a sense of humanity to the character, despite the cruel life he’s been involved in.
Rated R for some language
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=74353[/img]“The Family Fang” sports a rather…….well…… ugly transfer in many ways. Coming on a DVD-5 (which isn’t a horrible thing considering that there are zero extras besides a commentary by Jason Bateman) and shot digitally, the film looks very rough and full of some disturbing artifacts. There are some moments of good clarity where we see some strong detail outdoors, but much of the film is rather grungy and dirty looking, with excessive sharpness and some haloing (most prevalent around heads). Coloring is dingy and dirty, with a very dim set of lighting for the most part which shrouds the image lots of shadows, and those shadows are not always nice to the detail levels. Colors tend to be very brown and orange (especially during the flashbacks to when the children where kids), and the brighter shots tend to have some blown out contrast levels making those scenes overly white and blasted out. I’m honestly puzzled by this one, as DVD can show a LOT better quality than this particular release was given.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=74361[/img]The 5.1 Dolby Digital track fares a good bit better than the video encode, and is a fairly pleasing experience all around. “The Family Fang” isn’t a wild action oriented track, but rather a simple dramedy that puts most of its efforts into the front soundstage, and most of that into the center channel. Vocals are crisp and clean, free of any distortion. Dynamic range is fairly mild, with only a few moments that are sharp enough and visceral enough to startle you out of the simple vocal driven norm. Surrounds get some decent activity from ambient noises, like a car driving by, or the rustle of leaves out on the hiking trail, but really they are mostly there as honorary members of the track. LFE is tight and clean WHEN in use, but tends to stay hidden for a majority of the runtime.
• Audio Commentary with Director/Actor Jason Bateman
I love Jason Bateman, and have a passionate interest in his career outside of the standard Hollywood norm. “The Family Fang” shows a delicate sense of direction and juggling of differing emotions as the story unfolds, but he seems to be hampered by the simplistic and overly banal script that he’s working with. There are moments of brilliance throughout the film, but there are also a frustrating lack of anything cohesive and poignant in the long haul. I guess you could say that there are elements of greatness just trying to break out from the standard script and for some reason Bateman couldn’t seem to pull those moments out in the spotlight. Audio and video are a bit disappointing, although the commentary track by Jason Bateman is actually quite informative and expounds on many of the frustrating experiences in creating the film. Worth it for a watch at least.
Starring: Jason Bateman, Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken
Directed By: Jason Bateman
Written By: Kevin Wilson (Novel), David Lindsay-Abaire (Screenplay)
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 MPEG2
Audio: English: Dolby Digital 5.1
Studio: Starz/Anchor Bay
Runtime: 106 Minutes
DVD Release Date: July 5th, 2016
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