‘Family’ is hilarious and heartwarming

Written and directed by Laura Steinel, ‘Family’ is a charming comedy about a workaholic who learns to love when she has to take care of her quirky niece. The film is quick-witted, heartwarming and definitely worth watching. (JRL: 4.5/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Julia Lasker

Family opens on Kate Stone (Taylor Schilling), a cutthroat businesswoman who has no time for anything but work. In an opening scene, she attends a coworker Sara’s (Karan Kendrick) baby shower upon hearing that there will be cake. Kate informs Sara that she’s been taken off future projects because, after the baby, her “career is over.” A new employee approaches Kate to ask her how she’s achieved so much, to which Kate explains that you only priority must be work, and that having a family is not an option.

This is Kate’s predominant attitude until she gets a call from her brother (Eric Edelstein), who implores her to watch his 11-year-old daughter, Maddie (Bryn Vale), for a night while he and his wife help his mother-in-law move into hospice. Kate refuses vehemently, but because her brother is out of options, he leaves Maddie with Kate anyway.

When Kate arrives to pick Maddie up from her ballet class later that day, she actually finds her niece in the karate class nextdoor, doing karate in tights and a leotard. This is her first clue that Maddie is not what she’d imagined for a pre-teen girl. Over dinner, Maddie begins to open up to Kate about being bullied in school and feeling like an outsider. This is something Kate remembers vividly from her own childhood, and the two connect over the experience.

The next afternoon, Kate receives another call from her brother, begging her to keep Maddie until the end of the week. Left with no choice in the matter, Kate agrees, and as the week progresses, she and Maddie begin to form a closer bond. Maddie faces intense identity issues, crying that “Sometimes I don’t even feel like a girl. Sometimes I feel like a wolf.” She’d rather be in karate than ballet, and likes to hang out with a group of boys at the gas station. Unlike Maddie’s hovering mother, Kate accepts Maddie for her uniqueness and does what she can to help her be herself. The week that Kate and Maddie spend together proves to be transformative for both of them as they learn to accept who they are and break down the walls they’ve built against the world.

Family is hilarious. Kate has a dry, tell-it-like-it-is humor that’s offset by the over-the-top personalities that surround her. Kate McKinnon plays a suburban mom who lives nearby, and, as we can expect of her, she gives a hilariously pointed portrayal of the trope. The humor is very original and creative, which is a pleasant surprise for what seemed like it would be a total cliché of a movie.

But Family isn’t only funny; it’s also full of heart. The film’s protagonists, Kate and Maddie, have such rich and complex personalities that it’s easy to fall completely in love with them and to root for them wholeheartedly. Family also treats every type of person with love and respect, highlighting their quirks but never making fun of them for it. Maddie, for example, becomes a Juggalo, and instead of portraying Juggalos as frightening and dangerous, Family highlights the wonderful and loving community that actually characterizes them. The film presents everyone as lovable for who they are, no matter how odd, which is not typical of mainstream movies and sends a uniquely positive message to audiences.

When I read the logline for this film, I wasn’t all that excited to see it. It sounded like an overdone character arc about a workaholic who learns to love when she spends time with a quirky kid…. And it is that. However, the comedy and the heart of the film are so well done that it doesn’t matter; everything you expect to happen does happen, and yet it’s absolutely wonderful when it does.

© Julia Lasker (4/25/19) FF2 Media

Q: Does Family pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

A: Yes!

There are too many for me even to name. In fact, this film has pretty much no focus on men at all at any point.

Photos courtesy of The Film Arcade

 

 

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