In the Family | Film review
First-time director Patrick Wang makes familiar-sounding material specific and rich.
Approaching hot-button, sounds-like-Lifetime material with such specificity and richness that it never once seems familiar, In the Family is a strikingly nuanced take on the child-custody battle that ensues when one half of a gay partnership dies. In small-town Tennessee, Cody (Trevor St. John) and Joey (writer-director Patrick Wang) have raised the former’s son, Chip (Sebastian Brodziak), for six years. During this time, Cody’s extended family has tolerated Joey—indeed, seems to like him—but one of the things the movie so delicately captures is the way this dynamic changes. After Cody is killed in an accident, his sister (Kelly McAndrew) regards her brother’s partner more warily; the sympathy the clan extends toward Joey when he’s refused visitation at the hospital—an impressively understated, motivationally complex scene—dissolves into some mixture of entitlement, concern and unacknowledged bigotry when it comes to deciding the fate of Cody’s son, who called both men “Dad.”
Even that description makes In the Family sound like a tract, which it decidedly is not. Unusually long for a debut feature, Wang’s film takes its time illustrating how familial bonds form and re-form. The flashbacks, parceled out at strange intervals, suggest the movie has been organized according to emotional rather than dramatic logic. Giving a superb performance, Wang frequently films himself and the other actors in long takes, watching as they choose their words carefully and navigate tricky terrain. While the film’s longueurs and silences occasionally veer into mannerism, they also hedge against sentimentality. There’s something quietly radical, even optimistic, about Wang’s take on the capacity of family and friends to cope with an untenable legal arrangement. Largely spurned by the festival circuit, this self-distributed release has won a handful of early champions among critics. Good on them: It’s not often you emerge from a film asking, Where did this movie come from? And why aren’t more people talking about it?
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