In the Family
(2012 – Director: Patrick Wang Cast: Patrick Wang, Sebastian Banes, Trevor St. John)
In the Family is nothing short of wonderful. This unconventional film sits you down and demands you participate in its every move.
I recently saw this film at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln, NE. Following the film, first time director, writer, and actor Patrick Wang did a Q&A. I feel spoiled that I got to see such a rare and gentle film and to have its creator discuss the film afterwards. I wish I could see every movie like this. His approach to filmmaking, life, themes, and style are all refreshing to see in cinema. I truly hope this films gets all the recognition it deserves and that he has plenty of opportunities to make more movies.
In the Family is about two men who are partners, Cody, and Joey (played by Wang.) They are the fathers to Cody’s biological son, Chip. Early in the film Cody dies tragically forcing Joey to be a single parent. What follows is Joey’s struggle both by the law and Cody’s family to be accepted as Chip’s father despite not having any biological connection. Cody’s will, written years earlier, has no mention of Joey, forcing Cody’s sister to be the caretaker of Chip.
The film never mentions the word “gay.” It never mentions the word “asian” or “partners.” Mostly because there’s no need to draw attention to these comfort words outsiders use. This film is about a community that’s been broken. This happens in all of our lives. How do bad feelings grow so wild that we do things we never would have imagined. And how does our culture take these bad feelings and use the law as an antagonist. Joey must find a way to get Chip back using the same law that plainly says he can never be Chip’s father. What happens next was completely unexpected, but something that every family needs to see. It puts in perspective how important keeping a family together no matter what harsh feelings have transgressed.
Wang admitted that his style is a little disconcerting at first and usually takes audiences 20 mins to get used to. I’ll agree. At first his long, static shots where characters move in and out of frame seem unusual, especially for a modern film. But it eventually becomes part of the world. Each scene seems so real and natural that it puts you with the characters more than any 3D technology ever could dream. The fact that all aesthetic choices such as the sound design, showing backs of heads, having scenes where we don’t see characters at all, frames within frames, and static to handheld switchoffs in the middle of shots, all have a rhyme and reason. Wang never tells you how a character is feeling. He lets a scene play out with no words and lets the audience fill in the blanks.
The film was surprisingly full of comedy. Wang puts nuggets of genuine humor in this script in such a delicate manner that I felt like I missed half the jokes. It also doesn’t hurt that every actor did an amazing job. Wang’s theatre background lent its hand nicely to set up a scene and allow actors to flow throughout with such natural motion that at times it didn’t feel like I was watching a film. It was a nice blend between a Kelly Reichardt film and an Ozu film.
This film is not for the average movie lover. The script isn’t written with twists and plot points to move the story along. There are several times in the film when nothing is happening but giving backstory to a character and seeing reactions. The film is long. Almost 3 hours. This isn’t The Hobbit where there’s action scene after action scene to keep you engaged. In the Family simply relies on reality. The simple moments.
In the Family is a cautionary and a humanist film that should force every American to rethink the definition of family. If you don’t get a chance to see it as it travels the country, I hope you do get to watch it once it finds DVD distribution. To learn more about where it will be screening you can visit inthefamilymovie.com