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The Family Fang DVD Review

The Family Fang (2016) movie poster The Family Fang

Theatrical Release: April 29, 2016 / Running Time: 106 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Jason Bateman / Writers: Kevin Wilson (book); David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay)

Cast: Nicole Kidman (Annie Fang), Jason Bateman (Baxter Fang), Christopher Walken (Caleb Fang), Maryann Plunkett (Camille Fang), Jason Butler Harner (Young Caleb Fang), Harris Yulin (Hobart Waxman), Linda Emond (Miss Delano), Alexandra Wentworth (Sally Schiff), Michael Chernus (Kenny), Marin Ireland (Suzanne Crosby), Danny Burstein (Eric Wilcox), Gabriel Ebert (Joseph), Kathryn Hahn (Young Camille Fang)

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For a few years, it felt like Jason Bateman was in every major studio comedy, playing the sarcastic everyman. His career revived by "Arrested Development", the former child actor of 1980s television became a bona fide leading man in hits like Couples Retreat, Horrible Bosses, and Identity Thief. While Bateman's big screen appearances have slowed a little,
that may just be a result of him going into directing. Two years after making his directorial debut on Bad Words, Bateman returned to the helm of another indie comedy, The Family Fang. Despite attracting more accomplished on-camera talent around him in the way of Academy Award winners Nicole Kidman and Christopher Walken, this one received a more limited theatrical release from Starz Media, a studio that does most of its business in the digital and home video markets.

The Fangs are a family of performance artists. In the 1970s and '80s, parents Caleb (Jason Butler Harner, doing a Walken impression) and Camille (Kathryn Hahn) get people's attention by staging disarming public scenes: a child's bank robbery gone wrong, heckling of child musicians in Central Park, pyrotechnics at an ice skating rink and so on. In each encounter, Caleb and Camille's daughter Annie and son Baxter, nicknamed A and B, perform critical roles in fooling the public.

Annie (Nicole Kidman) and Baxter Fang (Jason Bateman) reluctantly agree to watch and record their parents' performance art involving a forged coupon and a food stand.

In adulthood, the Fang children have gone separate ways. Annie (Kidman) is an independent film actress and tabloid staple. Baxter (Bateman) is a writer, who can't seem to make progress on his latest book and has to settle for fluffy magazine articles. One such article gets him shot in the head by a potato gun and hospitalized with a collapsed eardrum. The incident brings the Fang parents (now Walken and Maryann Plunkett) back into their adult children's lives.

The parents, whose art once divided critics but has slipped since their kids bowed out, try to get Annie and Baxter involved in some new scenes, to minimal participation and modest returns. Then, Annie and Baxter get news that their parents have gone missing, leaving a trail of blood in their car. Are they the latest in a series of roadside murders or is that what they want the world to think as a latest and greatest stunt? Annie and Baxter wrestle with the uncertainty of the situation. As Buster puts it, "If they really were [dead], it would be horrible, but if they're not, it would kind of be worse."

Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett play the Fang parents in the present day.

The film is adapted from Kevin Wilson's acclaimed bestselling 2011 novel and it's tough to wrap your head around how a popular book could be turned into a fringe indie that even critics weren't super crazy about. I don't think Bateman's direction is to blame, nor is the screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire. Most of Lindsay-Abaire's credits have come from family films like Robots,
Rise of the Guardians, and Oz the Great and Powerful. But he's also written a lot of theatre, including the play that became Rabbit Hole, which he himself adapted. That human drama probably drew its star Kidman, whose Blossom Films company acquired the rights to Wilson's book just two months after it was published, to tap him for scripting duties.

Kidman and Bateman are both fine in the lead roles and Walken is his usual charismatic self. But the material is kind of dreary. It lacks both the whimsical fun the family performance art is supposed to supply and the compelling adult drama you expect as aftermath. The narrative jumps around chronologically, but never to any useful effect. The closest it gets is eventually getting around to depicting the high school Romeo and Juliet performance that put an end to the Fangs as a family of performers.

Bateman can't figure out how to make us feel this family's pain or somehow be entertained by it. Instead, we're left checking our watches.

Anchor Bay Entertainment, the video arm of Starz, doesn't even bother giving The Family Fang a Blu-ray release. Instead, it reaches DVD alone on Tuesday.

The Family Fang DVD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled
Release Date: July 5, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $22.98
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Family Fang doesn't look so hot on DVD, but that just might be the nature of watching standard definition amidst reviewing new movies almost exclusively on Blu-ray. The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen video seems soft and ill-defined. Some of that is by design; flashbacks are shot in 16mm and thus exhibit a good amount of grain. Meanwhile, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is fine, if unremarkable. English and Spanish SDH subtitles are provided on the feature, but not the commentary.

The Family Fang's DVD main menu simply adapts the film's very Wes Anderson-esque poster art.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The DVD contains a single bonus feature: an audio commentary by director-producer-star Jason Bateman.
Solo commentaries are such a hard thing to pull off, but Bateman tries his best to discuss what's onscreen and why, from the specific to the general. In addition to pointing out little issues that trouble him, he does a good job of identifying locations, actors, and music and explaining why each was picked. Still, as informative as this is, if you're going to spend this much time listening to Bateman, you might as well watch Zootopia instead.

The disc opens with menu-inaccessible trailers for One More Time and Tumbledown. Family Fang's own trailer is not included.

Simply adapted from the poster art, the menus are static and silent and no inserts or slipcover join the silver disc and black eco-friendly keepcase.

The search for the missing Fang parents brings Annie (Nicole Kidman) and Baxter (Jason Bateman) to the Pacific Northwest, where a couple of brothers have strangely covered a song they wrote as children.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Family Fang should be better than it is, though it's kind of hard to put your finger on why that is. Certainly, the cast has proved they're capable of work more involving than this limp dramedy. I've yet to be sold on Bateman's directing talents, though I don't think they're alone to blame here. Like the film it holds, Anchor Bay's DVD-only release underwhelms.

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: Midnight Special Knight of Cups Zootopia
Jason Bateman: Horrible Bosses Horrible Bosses 2 This Is Where I Leave You Identity Thief The Switch Extract Hancock Juno
Nicole Kidman: Margot at the Wedding The Paperboy Secret in Their Eyes Grace of Monaco
Christopher Walken: One More Time Blast from the Past $5 a Day Stand Up Guys
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire: Rise of the Guardians Inkheart Oz the Great and Powerful
The Royal Tenenbaums Tumbledown The Squid and the Whale Our Idiot Brother ACOD

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Reviewed July 1, 2016.



Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2016 Starz Media, Red Crown Productions, Olympus Pictures, Blossom Films,
Aggregate Films, West Madison Entertainment, Minerva Productions, QED International, and Anchor Bay Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.