Movie review: Actor Jason Bateman mines his dark side as director of The Family Fang

Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman (both above) play siblings in The Family Fang.
Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman (both above) play siblings in The Family Fang.PHOTO: CATHAY-KERIS FILMS

Jason Bateman's provocative dark comedy about the influence parents have on their children has a sharp edge to it



105 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3.5/5 stars

The story: Siblings Annie (Nicole Kidman) and Baxter (Jason Bateman) return to their childhood home in search of clues when their famous performance artist parents, Caleb (Christopher Walken) and Camille Fang (Maryann Plunkett), suddenly disappear. Adapted from Kevin Wilson's 2011 novel of the same name.

As an actor, Jason Bateman has carved out a career playing Mr Nice Guy, you know, the guy who is everybody's friend. As a director, he is showing his propensity for much darker fare. Following his 2013 directorial debut Bad Words, about a foul-mouthed amoral man, he helms this black comedy about a family headed by an even more off-kilter and disturbing man.

Artist Caleb Fang, along with his slightly reluctant wife Camille, courts controversy by continually making use of their children in a number of shocking performance art pieces. From a piece where he forces his young son to hold a gun to rob a bank, to another where he gets his children to belt out a song called Kill Your Parents on the streets, nothing is considered out-of-bounds for the Fang parents. Besides raising questions of what constitutes art, the film is thought-provoking in its examination of parents and the influence they have on their children.

For better or for worse, the Fang parents' odd ways have turned their children into the cynics that they are - Annie, in particular, is so hardened that she is convinced that her parents' prolonged disappearance is just part of their latest performance art piece. Baxter is slightly more cautious, holding out hope that his parents, as extreme as they are, would never do anything this hurtful to their kids.

It is a peculiar story, and Bateman is adept at keeping the tone of the film consistently dark throughout, although some of the scenes could do with some judicious editing.

Despite an ending that is not completely satisfying, he has painted a portrait of a very believable family, idiosyncrasies and all.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2016, with the headline 'A biting family drama'. Print Edition | Subscribe