“The Family Fang” is an odd, tonally quirky tale that gets to the complex nature of living an artist’s life, as well as the difficult questions we have for our parents when we reach adulthood.
Actor-director Jason Bateman plays Baxter, and Nicole Kidman plays his sister, Annie. A family of performance artists, their parents lived for creating chaos in mundane moments.
Now adults, they try their best to distance themselves from their avant-garde parents. But family drama draws both siblings back to address some unresolved issues.
amNewYork sat down with Bateman to chat about his role as a director and the themes of “The Family Fang,” which starts playing Friday at the Angelika.
This is your second film as a director [after 2013’s “Bad Words”]. How do you pick the projects you want to direct?
I like that the film is complicated tonally. It’s something that tries to be dramatic and comedic at points, and it doesn’t really spike in either direction. That kind of puts a burden on the director to use a little bit from each department in every single scene, because you’re trying to mix something that’s neither here nor there, that’s not definitive. I liked that it was something that was escalated in difficulty.
You’ve been in films and TV shows where dysfunctional families are at the center of the story. The chaos in this family is a whole different beast. Is that what attracted you to the project?
Yeah, I like that this is a little more unsettling and disturbing in that the parents are very unapologetic about their priorities. “Art is number one and being a parent is number two, at best, and what’s the problem with that? Aren’t you old enough to take care of yourself now, kids?” There’s a valid argument to that.
I think there’s a piece of all of us that just wants to understand our parents and their motives. It was interesting to see these two siblings come to their own conclusions.
Yeah, it’s a tough thing we all have to go through as kids, right? You just kind of become observant enough to recognize the flaws in your parents, and recognizing you may share some of those flaws. It drives us crazy that we still see it in our parents, and we have a choice. We can be resentful and invigorated that our parents are who they are, or you can afford them the same kind of freedom you afford other people in your life. It’s a real central thing that everybody goes through.
In the film there’s a real conversation about what art is and if there’s artistic value in commerce. Nicole’s character deals with it directly, but have you personally?
I think anyone who is creating art has a certain obligation to attempt to get a return for his or her investor. If your art takes absolutely no investing, then you can do whatever the hell you want. The more money you get, the more you have to round the edges and make it appealing for the larger audience, and sometimes that’s at the expense of the specificity of the content. It becomes generic, and that’s fine too, but I do think that you’ve got a job to do in making the whole thing. You have to play ball.