One has simply to say that the title indicates a family story with bite!.

And, one would not be mistaken.

The film opens with a voice-over advising a young child to imagine being dead, death pervading the limbs and moving towards a whole body – followed by advice about dealing with chaos: be calm within because the chaos is outside. And then two children join their parents in robbing a bank, the young boy, called Child B, goes to the teller to demand a lollipop from the counter. His mother and sister are there in support and his father is videoing the whole lot.

It emerges that the family Fang are artists, mother and father firmly believing that art occurs in real life, in contrived situations that put people on edge, and that the art is in the unpredictable experience and the results. Over the decades, they become quite famous and the audience sees black-and-white footage of pranks from the past, including Child B, Baxter, winning a beauty contest the judges thinking he was a girl. His sister, Annie, Child A, also participates – including singing on a park bench, “Kill your Parents”.

As might be expected, this film about family raises many issues about the influence of parents on children (not unlike the recent Captain Fantastic where the parents took their large family out into the woods to subsist in a tough environment).

The adult Annie, Child A, and Baxter, Child B, have obviously experienced some psychological damage, she a temperamental film actress, he a moderately successful writer who cannot get his next manuscript in for the deadline. When Baxter is hospitalised through an accident with a gun firing potatoes, his parents come to the hospital to visit.

Annie and Baxter are very effectively played by Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman – who also directed the film.

But then Christopher Walken comes on the scene as the older father. Walken can chew scenery at the best of times and has many opportunities here to expound on his theories of art, his philosophy of life, elements of surprise and challenge in the performance arts that he involved his wife and children in in the past – and, it is revealed, he has not quite finished.

When their parents disappear – and the children are not sure whether they have been murdered or have engineered their disappearance – Annie and Baxter realise it is time for them to step out into their own individuality and deal with the influence of their parents. This involves going to see a professor who influenced their parents, Hobart (Harris Yulin).

The film includes the device of having the parents being interviewed for television, enabling them, especially the father, to explain his philosophy of art at some length, and Hobart also to be interviewed with his perspective.

There are some twists which the audience – and Annie and Baxter – did not anticipate.

Yes, the atmosphere and a lot of the behaviour is rather bizarre – but interesting and challenging.


Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting | Uploaded by: Mary Jennings