Monday, July 4, 2016

DVDebut: Jason Bateman scores again, as actor in and director of THE FAMILY FANG

Jason Bateman has long been one of TrustMovies favorite actors, particularly among those who seem under-rated yet have consistently helped ground a lot of films in which they are not the supposed "star" (remember Hancock?) As a director, Bateman has now made two fine films, the dirty-delight, spelling-bee movie, Bad Words, and now THE FAMILY FANG, which makes its DVDebut this week and proves yet another auspicious outing in which Bateman both directs and co-stars.

Just as he was by Andrew Dodge's fine screenplay for Bad Words, Mr. Bateman, shown above, is helped along by an excellent screenplay for "Fang" by David Lindsay-Abaire, adapted from a novel by Kevin Wilson.

Lindsay-Abaire (shown at left), of the play and movie, Rabbit Hole, is in a much more fanciful mood here, as he weaves themes of family, parenting, art and life together into an alternately witty and moving, often surprising tale of a family of four led by mom-and-dad performance artists who use their two children as part of their continuing "act." The movie opens with one of these early performance art pieces that takes place in a bank (below),

in which the kids, mom and dad (all shown above) conspire to give their unsuspecting audience a very big "thrill." When we cut to present day, we learn that the kids have now grown into Nicole Kidman and Mr. Bateman, who play a troubled sister and brother still coming to terms with how their past continues to rumple their present.

Bateman is a blocked writer, while Kidman (above, center) plays an actress who seems to be losing her grip on her career. Their parents (present-day) are played by stage and film vets Christopher Walken (above, left) and Maryann Plunkett (above, right),

and in younger days by Jason Butler Harner (center right, above) and Kathryn Hahn (center, left, above). As the movie evolves, it becomes a tale of art -- maybe good, maybe not so: the movie offers a juicy little argument between two critics about the Fangs' performance pieces -- and parenting, which I think most of us will rate as the not-so-hot sort.

The difficulty of being true to oneself as an artist and true to one's kids as a parent is placed front and center but, as presented by Bateman and Lindsay-Abaire, the theme is never baldly stated. It's simply there. But I suspect the movie will register quite strongly for those of us who've had (or tried to have) a career in the arts, while doubling as parents. The difficulty of doing both well is shown smartly and effectively and the film, for all it seriousness, is also great fun. (Those performance art pieces grow ever more surprising and original.)

As with Bad Words, Bateman draws fine work from everyone on screen, and his movie's resolution, while somewhat positive, is nothing close to feel-good. It suggests that growth is possible, all right, and so is "growing up" -- even with a pair of parents as self-involved as the ones we see here. The Family Fang is a fine addition to Bateman's continuing oeuvre. We await his next installment with anticipation.

From Anchor Bay Entertainment and running 106 minutes, the movie hits DVD this Tuesday, July 5, for purchase or rental. (That's Marin Ireland, above, left, as one of the Bateman character's fans -- and maybe something more.)

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