When I started watching this flick my first thought was, something really bad is going to happen—everything is going too well for this gay couple and their son. Sure enough, In the Family tells the tale of incredible loss and the personal strength it takes to get through the hard times.
The plot starts with two dads, Cody (Trevor St. John) and Joey (Patrick Wang), who are happily raising a six-year-old son, Chip (Sebastian Banes), in a seemingly constant state of bliss. Then one day their world is shattered when Cody is killed in a car accident and the battle between the deceased’s family and Joey over custody of Chip begins.
The characters endure uncalled-for pain and agony, suffering, humiliation and terrible loss at every turn, along with prejudice, bigotry and bad judgment calls. These experiences are not thrown into your face, though. By way of long scenes and stationary camera shots we are forced to soak in the moody form of patience, tolerance and a disbelief fueled by denial.
At first it is hard to decipher why Cody’s family members don’t come to some amiable result with Joey. It’s tricky because the disdain for Joey’s gayness is never openly discussed, but it’s obvious the underlying force beneath the conflict.
Everyone’s unyielding moral fiber fuels their motives. Implied hatred and shock-induced decisions become the fallout of the family’s relationship. False and real hope surface throughout in strong doses as we are manipulated into thinking one-sidedly and rooting for Joey.
Along the way we watch scenes from Cody and Joey’s life via flashbacks. The acting is all good and, with a deft hand, director Wang carries both his performance and the film in a constant state of believability. The father and son scenes here are touching.
But the low key dragging scenes, critical to that overwhelming feeling of agony, sometimes detract rather than enhance. The short scenes tell a big story and Wang should stick with more of them.
This leads me to my biggest gripe about Family: it’s too long, nearly three hours (that’s like Benjamin Button long). I’m sure it felt necessary for writer/director/star Wang to leave everything to view and nothing scattered on the editing floor, but the result is overkill.
I can appreciate long takes and slow moving, thought provoking material as much as the next art creep, but here it becomes clear from the get-go where the story is going and thus becomes unnecessary to witness a lot of the interactions.
This is not to say the movie is without merit. It is a very cool take on a very topical subject. All the acting from virtual unknowns is excellent, especially Wang’s own thespian talents. He created a believable ambiance to this entire flick from the grieving to the coping to the end result. And, finally, the writing is intelligent, distinct and intuitive. All the characters gel one way or another with each other almost like we are viewing a documentary.
But the most glorious feat in this film is the depiction of Joey’s dilemma. He confronts a threefold heaping of bigotry—he’s gay, Asian and has a Tennessee accent. Talk about a super minority.
At times Family is shot like Sling Blade and other times it resembles a film by the Duplass Brothers. A distracting filmmaking technique used is close-ups on one person while another person talks off camera. That’s okay once, but this method is employed too many times. It worked in Carnal Knowledge, but not here.
There are some fine moments to be had here. The deposition scene and climax are wrought with very cool things to say about society, love, life, parenting, racial prejudice and bigotry. After Joey states his case in a monologue, we get true humanity seeping out of everyone’s pores.
All in all, this movie ends on a big note of common sense, and that’s a good thing. Still, as meaningful as this flick is, it could easily have fit into last week’s over-indulgence issue.
Don’t get me wrong, I think this is an impressive directing debut. But, although a lot of the fill-in-the-blanks dead air time work to this film’s favor at times, its length allows the viewer to wallow in a different kind of misery altogether.
In the Family
Starring Sebastian Banes,
Patrick Wang, Trevor St. John
Written and Directed by Patrick Wang