The Fam­ily Fang

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - The Fam­ily Fang, Bad Words,

Is art a fin­ished prod­uct or a process? Can in-the-mo­ment pub­lic re­sponses to man­u­fac­tured stim­uli qual­ify as art, or are they merely ma­nip­u­la­tion dis­guised as en­ter­tain­ment? These are the heady ques­tions asked in di­rected by Ja­son Bate­man — from a screen­play by the play­wright David Lind­say-Abaire — and based on Kevin Wil­son’s 2011 novel. This is Bate­man’s sopho­more di­rect­ing ef­fort, af­ter 2013’s

which wasn’t much dif­fer­ent from the string of off­beat but low­brow come­dies he’s starred in since the 2006 net­work can­cel­la­tion of Ar­rested De­vel­op­ment.

The Fam­ily Fang is a dark, comedic drama about art, child abuse, ad­dic­tion, and ter­ri­ble de­ci­sions, but there is noth­ing cyn­i­cal or ironic in Bate­man’s ap­proach. An­other ques­tion the movie asks is how is one sup­posed to con­quer the last­ing ef­fects of an es­o­ter­i­cally abu­sive child­hood — one that out­siders don’t un­der­stand. Caleb and Camille Fang are fa­mous and re­spected per­for­mance artists; their chil­dren, An­nie and Bax­ter, par­tic­i­pated, of­ten glee­fully, in their par­ents’ cre­ative pranks when they were young. An­nie and Bax­ter were raised as Child A and Child B, the stars of Caleb (Christo­pher Walken) and Camille’s (Maryann Plun­kett) guer­rilla-style street theater, which they call fine art. Videos of their projects are in­cluded in gal­leries and mu­se­ums, but Caleb be­lieves the only real art is in the hap­pen­ing it­self. The cou­ple’s chil­dren were the ones who made his art suc­cess­ful, such as when lit­tle Bax­ter dressed as a girl to en­ter and win a youth beauty pageant. Caleb rushed the stage and re­vealed his son’s iden­tity just as Bax­ter was awarded his tiara.

But once A and B got older and no longer took part in their par­ents’ machi­na­tions, Caleb and Camille slid into hack ter­ri­tory. When they dis­ap­pear at a high­way rest stop on their way to a va­ca­tion, An­nie and Bax­ter, now in their for­ties, are torn between be­liev­ing that their par­ents are in dan­ger, as the po­lice say, or that they are en­gag­ing in one last mas­sive per­for­mance piece: fak­ing their own deaths. As Bax­ter Fang, Bate­man stretches his act­ing in a new, much more in­ter­est­ing di­rec­tion. Bax­ter is dam­aged and wiz­ened, a look of deep des­per­a­tion in his eyes, strug­gling as a nov­el­ist with writer’s block. An­nie, an ac­tress on the down-slide of her ca­reer, is played ef­fort­lessly by Ni­cole Kid­man, who takes on the role with rel­ish, as if she’s been wait­ing for years to get back at some­one for mess­ing with her head one too many times. Their search for the truth forces them to look at the im­pli­ca­tions of be­ing raised as art ob­jects by ex­act­ing di­rec­tors, and to ask whether their par­ents have ever been ca­pa­ble of lov­ing them as peo­ple. — Jen­nifer Levin

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