The maddening ties that bind parents and children are the subject of “The Family Fang,” a mostly successful adaptation of the 2011 Kevin Wilson novel directed by Jason Bateman and scripted by the playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. Bateman also costars, with Nicole Kidman, as damaged siblings Baxter and Annie, whose bohemian parents corralled them as children into taking part in performance art pieces like a sabotaged beauty pageant and a bank robbery.
The parents, in the present-day scenes, are played by Maryann Plunkett and Christopher Walken, who is at his best as the lethally oddball Caleb. The movie captures so well the push-pull of family dysfunction that, after a while, even the Fangs’ extreme eccentricities seem routine. And that’s the point: The filmmakers are trying to demonstrate that, no matter what we think our family dynamic may be, we’re all on the same strange spectrum.
Bateman is extraordinarily good as the hurt, wary Baxter, a struggling novelist, while Kidman, playing an actress past her prime, makes a convincing sibling. Her performance is less freeze-dried than usual. The film becomes overly inspirational and it does go on a bit – whenever you think it’s about to end it slides into another scene – but it successfully manages the difficult transition from loopy to tragic to uplifting. Grade: B+ (Rated R for some language.)