When I saw The Family Fang in mid April when it came out after premiering at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival I flatly didn’t like it. That’s not right. I didn’t just dislike it; I felt it was too much of an unresolved bore and I had wasted just under 100 minutes of my time. I honestly can’t explain why I felt this way; perhaps it had to do with the parents who never seem to know when to stop with the antics that make up the Fang’s quirky fame. Alright, maybe it had more to do with this one aspect of the movie. I just couldn’t relate to this bizarre level of family dysfunction because it just seemed too constructed and just plain weird and cheapened its entire premise for naught. But because of that, I held out on writing anything. Something told me to wait for the DVD premiere and view it.
So here I am on a plane headed back from LA to NY and I have five hours to kill. I see that one of the many movies offered is Patrick Bateman’s The Family Fang. I figured, why not, this is my opportunity to see it again, cold, unbiased, and if I still didn’t like it, so be it, I didn’t and that was my final verdict.
So here it goes: The Family Fang is something of an implausible dramedy of family mechanics that manages to work based more on the strong performances of the lead actors (which also include Nicole Kidman and Patrick Bateman, playing siblings and Christopher Walken and MaryAnn Plunkett as the parents), and the way Bateman brings this rather odd fish of a story onto the screen, than the story itself. It’s a stronger film than Bateman’s previous Bad Words, and its topic, based on the novel of the same name by Kevin Wilson, doesn’t allow for soft endings or even that you relate to the events on a personal level. The performance art that dominates the lives of the Fangs seems to be a motif for an inability to truly relate to one another. From the time Annie and Baxter were kids this is all they’ve known: dad Caleb and mom Camille (Jason Butler Harner and Kathyrn Hahn) stage surreal montages for the public to make a reaction, and usually end it with shock value. Caleb and Camille clearly love this sort of thing and it actually brings them a level of eccentric fame that critics either love or hate. However, Annie and Baxter, who grow up to be an actress and writer themselves, would rather distance themselves from these antics.
Early in the story Baxter finds himself having an accident that lands him in a hospital. When Caleb and Camille show up they’re in ruse mode and offer no real sense of support. Later on, in the Fang home, a dinner sequence turns a little queasy when Caleb continues to poke fun at his daughter’s topless sequence in a movie she was filming, a movie she almost walked out of because she didn’t care to do the scene to begin with. The fact that the elder Fangs seem to make light of the situation points at that neither of the parents are a) willing to get to know their children as grown adults and b) that they seem to be constantly living their lives as if it were a sketch for an invisible audience complete with shock reactions and maybe a laugh track.
So when Annie and Caleb are approached by local authorities that tell them their parents have disappeared and may be dead, the disbelief is palpable. In Annie’s mind this is another one of their performance art set pieces where now they’ve taken it up a notch (and the police take disappearances rather seriously). However, there is a creeping notion that perhaps the parents have become disillusioned with their children and have perhaps . . . taken off. We do continue to see the parents in archive video footage explaining their theories on art and life to the camera, and it almost takes the film into documentary territory. The movie loses some of its comic tone from here on and as it reaches its close it starts to feel like there is no resolve, and I think this is how I feel the story should end (and no, I haven’t spoiled a single thing). Bateman’s film is good even when the subject is a little off the wall and unusual and even a little bit dark.
The Family Fang is out on DVD and streaming platforms.