Updated: Feb 8
There are a lot of movies about estranged relatives bonding after they are forced to spend time together. This year there have already been multiple movies (What Men Want and Little) about hard-working businesswomen learning what really matters in their lives. Family mixes those two concepts into a comedy that almost, kind of, works for stretches, but does not add much to either. It has funny moments and does not overstay its welcome (it is 81 minutes, without the end credits), yet it will probably not linger for very long in your memory.
Kate is a successful businesswoman who steamrolls her employees and has no life outside of work. When her brother and his wife need to take care of his mother-in-law, she reluctantly agrees to watch their middle-school aged daughter. Can Kate juggle two responsibilities and cope with having to think about someone besides herself?
Family touches on the importance of family, being yourself and what women have to do to find success in the workplace. The last one is particularly interesting and the reason Kate is so ruthless. The story is saying society has encouraged women like her to show no weakness, take advantage of any opportunity no matter how small and shove life to the side as a way of proving their commitment to their job. Also, this atmosphere promotes competition between women because it is thought there is only room for one of them to advance up the corporate ladder.
All of this is compounded by Kate’s lack of social skills, but the basic idea is she has been taught this is how she must act to protect her position. This is displayed in the way she talks to someone soon to go on maternity leave as though her career is over and the tips she gives to a new female coworker. Sadly, much like in the other recent stories focused on work-obsessed females, this aspect does not get fully developed. Instead, the emphasis is on how her relationship with her eleven year-old niece causes her to reevaluate things.
Taylor Schilling plays Kate as an unhappy, lonely person who concentrates single-mindedly on her job because, in part, it helps her ignore how miserable she is. Bryn Vale is her niece, Maddie, just as awkward as her Aunt. She knows where she does not fit in but, being a pre-teen, not so much where she does. This leads her to a friendship with some Juggalos (followers of the Detroit hip hop duo Insane Clown Posse) and a climax more emotional than what comes before it; maybe more emotional than was actually necessary.
Schilling is funny in an inconsistent role that gives her too many character traits and not enough big moments. Vale is also enjoyable as the anxious Maddie, playing well off of Schilling and delivering some quality straight-faced lines. The two best supporting parts go to Brian Tyree Henry as Maddie’s understated, and understanding, karate instructor and Kate McKinnon, very good as a frustrated neighbor.
Family is an amusing comedy that takes a fairly common premise in slightly unexpected directions. However, it appears more thoughtful than it really is. Despite the major topics it brings up, it is mostly another quirky movie about troubled, unlikable, people softening a bit after being pushed out of their comfort zone. It is not especially moving or insightful, but it is generally pleasant. Plus, I have never seen Juggalos treated sympathetically onscreen before, so that is definitely something.
3 out of 5
Taylor Schilling as Kate
Bryn Vale as Maddie
Brian Tyree Henry as Pete
Kate McKinnon as Jill
Eric Edelstein as Joe
Allison Tolman as Cheryl
Matt Walsh as Dan
Jesse Ennis as Erin
Fabrizio Zacharee Guido as Dennis
Written and Directed by Laura Steinel