The Family Fang

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Family Fang Movie Poster Image
Compelling, mature dramedy about family dysfunction.
  • R
  • 2016
  • 105 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Strong sibling relationships can see you through even the worst traumas.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Though they're definitely scarred from their upbringing, Baxter and Annie watch out for each other and are essentially good people.

Violence

Some of the Fangs' performance art, including pieces that feature children, have violent undertones -- like one in which a young boy flashes a gun in a bank, leading to a shoot-out. A car is found by the side of the road, passengers missing and blood smeared on the dashboard. A man is shot in the head with a potato gun.

Sex

An actress with a reputation for being wild parades around without her top on (she's seen from behind); afterward, a photo with a strategically placed black bar appears in a tabloid. In another scene, a man in his underwear is seen in the background, clearly looking for the rest of his clothing while a woman talks on the phone. References to infidelity. 

Language

Frequent use of words including "s--t" and "f--k."

Consumerism

Products seen/featured include Apple and Saab.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One character admits she's drinking too much. Another seems especially quick to pop his pain pills. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Family Fang is a book-based indie drama (directed by and starring Jason Bateman) that deals with fairly intense subjects, including growing up in a dysfunctional home and a couple's apparent disappearance. As part of their eccentric parents' performance art pieces, kids are put in bizarre situations that have them pretending they've been shot or buried alive. There are also references to drinking too much and overdependence on painkillers, as well as swearing (including "f--k" and "s--t"). A main character is accidentally shot, a car is found by the side of the road (passengers missing and blood smeared on the dashboard), and a topless actress is shown from behind.

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What's the story?

There's a reason that Baxter (Jason Bateman), a writer, and Annie (Nicole Kidman), an actress, prefer to avoid discussing their parents (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett). Their mom and dad made a living as performance artists, as their art included giving their children roles in their "improv" pieces, which led to plenty of memories, both good and bad. Now grown-ups, Baxter and Annie prefer to stay away -- except they can't, not after Baxter is accidentally shot while on assignment and their parents are called in to help. Annie, who needs some time away from work anyway, comes home too to help her brother maintain his sanity. But then their parents disappear -- and that's when things get even more complicated. 

Is it any good?

Based on the novel by Kevin Wilson, THE FAMILY FANG is an unflinching look at what it's like to come of age as the child of very eccentric parents. As Tolstoy wrote, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." And the Fangs are indeed unhappy in their own particular -- and deeply compelling -- way. Directed by Bateman with a deft, sensitive touch, this drama has humor mined from pain in its DNA, and it will resonate with many viewers, even if they didn't grow up with eccentric artists.

The shadows of Baxter and Annie's creative, self-involved parents loom large, but the movie doesn't rely on cheap shots that diminish the layers of a difficult-but-loving parent-child relationship. A mystery plot thread that runs through the film echoes the mysteries inherent in the way we all relate with our families of origin: Do we ever really know who our parents are? And are we just extensions of them? If so, how do we separate?

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what makes The Family Fang a coming-of-age story. How would you define that term? What do coming-of-age stories tend to have in common?

  • Are the Fangs a happy family? How does the film address their dysfunction? Do the kids have a true voice in their relationship -- both personal and professional -- with their parents?

  • For movies based on books, do you usually prefer the novel or the movie? Why? How do you feel when the filmmakers make changes to the original story? Why do you think that happens?

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