Just last week I pointed out the strange but undeniable similarities between the underdog singer movie “Teen Spirit” and the 1980s favorite “The Karate Kid,” and though I’m reasonably certain I won’t be making a steady habit of drawing parallels between new releases and popular films from the 1980s, please bear with me.
Because “Family” is SUCH an “Uncle Buck” of a movie.
As you’ll recall, John Hughes’ 1989 comedy starred John Candy as the title character, who is pressed into emergency babysitting duty when his brother and sister-in-law have to leave town after the sister-in-law’s father suffers a serious health crisis.
Buck is such an absentee uncle, he doesn’t even know the names and ages of his brother’s children. His temporary guardianship leads to a a contentious meeting with a school principal. He also locks horns with his rebellious teenage niece — but when he fears she’s in danger, he roars through a wild party scene to save her.
In “Family,” Taylor Schilling’s Kate is pressed into emergency babysitting duty when her brother and sister-in-law have to leave town after the sister-in-law’s mother suffers a serious health crisis.
Kate is such an absentee aunt, she doesn’t even know the name of her niece. Her temporary guardianship leads to a contentious meeting with a school principal. She also locks horns with her rebellious, adolescent niece — but when she fears the girl is in danger, she roars through a wild party scene to save her.
But as was the case with “Teen Spirit,” I’m not saying “Family” is a ripoff or even a reboot — it just shares certain plot points with a much-loved 1980s film, but also has unique charms of its own.
And when I say “unique,” I’m not kidding. Writer-director Laura Steinel has delivered a refreshingly unfiltered, R-rated, coming-of-age comedy that somehow manages to be funny, sweet and sentimental — AND paints a positive picture of the Juggalos, those face-painting, hardcore maniac fans of the Insane Clown Posse.
Taylor Schilling, who demonstrates her gift for fearless comedy/drama on “Orange Is the New Black,” goes all-in and kills with her performance as Kate, a successful but tightly wound and unpopular executive with a New Jersey-based hedge fund. Operating without a filter, Kate berates her assistant, mocks her co-workers and regularly says the wrong thing at work — but couldn’t care less if she ruffles feathers and hurts feelings, as long as she’s winning.
“I’m usually in this place where I hate myself, but I still think I’m better than anyone else,” is how Kate assesses herself.
When Kate’s brother Joe (Eric Edelstein) calls and says there’s an emergency and no one else is available, so can Kate watch Maddie, Kate says, “I’m sorry, who?”
“Your niece,” comes the reply.
And so Kate finds herself charged with watching 11-year-old Maddie (Bryn Vale) for one night — which turns into a week, so we can have a whole movie and lots of stuff can happen.
Maddie is a great kid, but she’s an outcast at school and the target of bullies. Her parents don’t get Maddie at all; they’ve been sending her to ballet classes, but as Kate quickly discovers, Maddie has actually been ditching ballet for karate lessons.
Enter Bryan Tyree Henry as the likable and friendly Sensei Pete, yes, Sensei Pete. Too great.
Kate McKinnon is equally entertaining as the busybody next-door neighbor who is always wearing yoga outfits, going on power walks and telling Maddie’s aunt she needs to step up her guardianship game.
Steinel’s screenplay is filled with quirky and very funny throwaway moments, e.g., when the owner of a restaurant chastises Kate for letting Maddie have chicken parm night after night and says the girl is going to get diabetes if she doesn’t have the occasional salad, or when Sensei Pete tells Kate he’s Maddie’s emergency contact, “though I have no idea how she got my number.”
And when Maddie runs off with her friends to attend a Gathering of the Juggalos, it’s Sensei Pete who explains what that means:
“Basically, take all the horrible people on the planet and multiply that by 10,000, put ‘em all together and get ‘em drunk [and] vandalizing public property and then you have the gathering of the Juggalos.”
Yet I’m pretty sure the Juggalos will be pleased with how they’re ultimately portrayed in “Family.”
For all its creatively weird detours and raunchy dialogue, “Family” is ultimately a conventional and formulaic story of how Everyone Grows and Becomes a Better Person After One Madcap Crazy Week.
Still. Props to Steinel, Schilling and company for putting such a fresh twist on a familiar tale.
Film Arcade presents a film written and directed by Laura Steinel. Rated R (for language, some sexual content and drug use). Running time: 83 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.