Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Family Fang

Yesterday I saw Jason Bateman's new movie, after it finally came to my area. It's apparently based on a book, which I haven't read, and the brother character was originally named Buster, but it's changed to Baxter in the movie, I guess to avoid connection to Arrested Development. The Fang family is sort of like the Bluths, but not exactly. Whereas Bluths are all about money, corruption, racism, etc, the Fangs are obsessed with performance art. They act out elaborate scenarios and love shocking people. Each "piece" is filmed, making for crazy home movies, though not as commercially motivated as the Bluth Boyfights videos. For the eccentric Fangs, it's supposed to be Art, showing Life to Society.

Nicole Kidman is great as Annie Fang, the older sister who becomes an actress. On set, she has a fight with a sleazebag director trying to get her to film a topless scene, making all these Hollywood arguments about how it would be empowering and brave and other sexist crap that made me roll my eyes. I was a little disappointed in Annie's eventual response, but the movie framed it as being part of her spiral out of control in tabloid gossip, so I guess they acknowledge it was a bad choice for her to give in. Meanwhile her brother Baxter is a novelist having writer's block, and I'm glad that Bateman is not playing a jerk this time. Baxter goes to write a freelance article about some farm dudes with potato guns; through hijinks and bad choices of his own, he ends up in the hospital, and thus has to reunite with his parents and sister at home while he recovers.

There are some amusing flashbacks to the kids participating in their parents' crazy public stunts years ago; Annie and Baxter did seem to enjoy playing these elaborate pranks back then. But in their teen years, the parents stopped letting the kids in on the joke, instead tricking them into playing Romeo and Juliet together, to see what the audience reaction will be to the incest. (And that's really as far as the incest goes in the film, unlike the Bluths' perpetual running jokes in that area.) So it becomes clear that the parents are manipulative and treating their kids like puppets for their own agenda. Also, the father Caleb keeps criticizing his children for not being true artists anymore since they've pursued new careers as adults.

As the movie gets darker and more serious, you don't laugh as much, and you see how damaged the siblings are. They stand up to their parents and soon after, their parents disappear. Annie insists that their parents are only staging their deaths, and that they will reveal themselves alive as soon as the police declare them dead. Baxter is more willing to believe the police, who say there have been a string of rest stop murders in their area. Annie keeps investigating, and Baxter tries to support her, if it's her way of expressing grief. However, he eventually gets fed up, and tells her that either their parents are dead, or their parents really want their kids to believe them dead, which is kind of worse, that they would put their kids through that grief. He argues that, either way, it would be healthier for the siblings to act as if it's real and to move on from their messed up parents. Their parents will never change and become the kind of normal, happy parents that would drive around in a Winnebago with them.

Annie sees his point and eventually we see a glimpse of the siblings getting a Winnebago together. It's kind of sweet, and when Baxter finally writes his novel about a pair of siblings in a dystopian world where a Pitmaster kidnaps orphans and makes them fight in a pit, Annie realizes that it's a metaphor about their own horrible childhood. It feels good that they are able to fix each other and help each other to move forward. (I read that the book had more plot elements about the siblings meeting love interests and making progress in their careers, but I think the movie made a good choice to focus on the sibling bond, and how they manage to survive their parents fucking them up.)

Anyway, I won't spoil any the mystery plot about what happened to the parents, because it's true what Baxter said, that either outcome would be horrible.

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