‘The Family Fang’: Jason Bateman tops himself with Freudian drama

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Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman in “The Family Fang.” | Starz Digital

In most of the major American sports, there’s a Comeback Player of the Year award, usually given to someone who has bounced back from a terrible season, an injury and/or a personal setback.

Given Hollywood’s built-in penchant for drama, how is it none of the established awards shows have come up with a Comeback Award?

From Frank Sinatra to Sally Field to Rob Reiner, from Ron Howard to Cher to John Travolta, from Bryan Cranston to Robert Downey Jr., from Halle Berry to Matthew McConaughey, there’s nothing like a comeback story.

To wit, Jason Bateman.

A generation after his competent acting work on middling sitcoms such as “Silver Spoons” and “The Hogan Family” and the disaster that was the feature film “Teen Wolf Too,” not to mention his addictions and his setbacks, Bateman has emerged as one of the most interesting character actors AND one of the most promising directors around.

Bateman directs and stars in “The Family Fang,” and for Bateman the filmmaker and Bateman the actor, it’s as good as he’s ever been.

Based on the 2011 novel by Kevin Wilson, “The Family Fang” is a darkly Freudian story about a legendary, avant-garde performance-art couple named Caleb and Camille, who used their young children as pawns in captivatingly cruel pieces, ranging from a false bank robbery, to a Times Square performance in which the children sang about wanting to murder their parents, to a production of “Romeo and Juliet” in which their children, Baxter and Annie, had little choice but to embrace and kiss one another in front of the entire community.

Cut to present day.

Annie (Nicole Kidman) is an actress; Baxter (Jason Bateman) is a novelist. Neither has achieved the heights they’d hoped for.

Meanwhile, their now-elderly parents Caleb (Christopher Walken) and Camille (Maryann Plunkett), legendary inventors of the elaborate, extremely long con, are still plying their trade.

Caleb and Camille are so devoted to their art, they treat their own grown children as nuisances who used to be props. And even as Annie and Baxter tell each other they’ve risen above their parents’ nonsense, they’re not entirely sure.

Bateman and Kidman have extraordinarily solid chemistry as grown-up siblings, who cling to each other in the face of storm after storm.

Christopher Walken gives one of his least affected and most genuine performances in recent years as the narcissistic Caleb, who comes THIS CLOSE to believing his own hyperbole. Walken’s work is so powerful, and Caleb’s line of bull—- is so electric, we can see how his grown children would fall for his con once again.

Even when “The Family Fang” stretches credulity, we stay with it. Bateman knows how to tell a story.

★★★1⁄2

Starz Digitalpresents a film directed by Jason Bateman and written by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on the novel by Kevin Wilson. Running time: 105minutes. Rated R (for some language). Opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre and on demand.

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