What if you had parents who referred to you and your sibling as Child A and Child B? And what if said parents forced you to participate in performance art pieces, such as staging a bank robbery complete with guns, fake blood and bystanders who think it’s all for real? You’d definitely be scarred. The Fang kids sure are, even as adults played by Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman.
Annie (Kidman) is an actress in a career slump. Baxter (Bateman) is a stalled author. Miraculously, this sister and brother find their way into our minds and hearts. That’s because playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) has adapted Kevin Wilson’s novel into something deeper than another trip to dysfunction junction. And because Bateman, back in the director’s chair after a strong 2014 feature debut with Bad Words, proves he has an affinity for the process, especially for actors. Kidman is in peak form. And Bateman nails every comic and dramatic nuance, finding Baxter’s bruised heart and inner strength. The Family Fang feels lived in instead of constructed. It sneaks up on you. It helps, of course, to have the bracingly bizarre Christopher Walken play Daddy Fang, a wicked charmer named Caleb who literally uses his children as props to prop up his shaky identity as an artist. Other parents do the same thing, but metaphorically. Caleb and his wife, Camille (a stellar Maryann Plunkett) go right at it. In flashbacks, we watch younger versions of Caleb and Camille, played by Jason Butler Harner and Kathryn Hahn, consistently place art over their children.
In the present, Annie and Baxter come together when their parents go missing. Annie thinks they’re faking it for publicity, much needed since their careers faltered when Annie and Baxter left the act. Baxter resists – he wants to believe even his unorthodox parents wouldn’t be hurtful enough to convince their kids and the world that they’re dead. As Annie and Baxter play detective in a case involving their own lives, The Family Fang emerges as a comedy with disturbing undercurrents. Kidman and Bateman make a potent team in a provocative film that questions the limits of art in a world that forgets to be human. The result is funny, touching and vital.