It’s really no surprise that Jason Bateman has stepped behind the camera over the last few years, first with 2013’s Bad Words and now with The Family Fang. Not only was he a hit child actor in the 1980s, but he became the Directors Guild of America’s youngest-ever director when he oversaw three episodes of The Hogan Family at just 18 years of age. But what is surprising is just how adept Bateman has proven to be as a feature filmmaker, having obviously benefited from his years in this business of show.
While Bad Words was divisive, Jason Bateman’s handling of the outrageous and offensive comedy was widely praised. That took place within a genre where Jason Bateman has plyed his trade for decades, though. With The Family Fang, Jason Bateman delves into a mysterious plot that’s more drama than comedy. But he adjusts and guides the film through its narrative, creating mood and intrigue, while also eking out terrific, touching performances from himself and Nicole Kidman.
Jason Bateman and Nicole Kidman play two siblings, Baxter and Annie. They were raised by world famous parents Caleb (Christopher Walken) and Camille Fang (Maryann Plunkett), who used their children as actors in their real-life art exhibits that saw them play pranks on unsuspecting members of the public.
Baxter and Annie have distanced themselves from their parents in the decades since, going on to become a successful author and actress, respectively. But their careers have stagnated. But when Caleb and Camille disappear, Baxter and Annie can’t decide if this is another performance or if they’ve actually been killed.
While Jason Bateman shows a nice prowess behind the camera, especially, once again, with Bad Words cinematographer Ken Seng, The Family Fang’s script, adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from Kevin Wilson’s book, lacks the weight and heightened drama to really impress. It's also not especially amusing, and it becomes preachy when it discusses themes relating to the battle between art and commerce and how to live life.
That being said, there's still a nice flow and rhythm to The Family Fang, though, while Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman provide layered and touching performances as the broken, distant siblings that are simply trying to figure out what has happened to their parents. But you're never jolted into truly caring about their exploits, instead it just progresses along in a malaise.
It’s enjoyable enough, just vapid, and without anything particularly interesting to say. While you’re never completely disenchanted and you’ll want to see it out to find out exactly what’s happened to Caleb and Camille, The Family Fang doesn't hit the right notes, or build to a satisfying, concluding crescendo.
It’s admirable, just not memorable. But there’s more than enough to prove that this is just the beginning for Jason Bateman behind the camera, while reminding us that there’s still life in him in front of it just yet, too.