Directed by: Laura Steinel
Starring: Kate McKinnon, Taylor Schilling, Brian Tyree Henry, Bryn Vale, Eric Edelstein, Allison Tolman
Rated R for language, some sexual content and drug use
1 hr., 25 mins.
So, when you were growing up, did you like your parents? Did they like you? How about all those times you snuck around doing things your folks wouldn’t approve of and got away with it? Ah, yeah, good times, good times. Or . . . maybe not.
There are a lot of good family films about coming of age. When it comes to teenage girls and their home life, I think of Thirteen or even the recent Eighth Grade.
Family doesn’t reach that high. I don’t think it intends to. I think it’s meant to be lighthearted about a subject that is potentially painful. If characters can become symbols, this film certainly seems to use that approach toward the meaning of family. Then again, I remember some members of my own family who certainly seemed symbolic of things not pleasant.
Kate Stone (Taylor Schilling) is a workaholic at a hedge fund firm in New Jersey. She is brusque and works hard to keep the office staff at a distance. It seems to be a measure of her success. Work hard. Avoid entanglements.
When her estranged brother (Eric Edelstein) and an uptight sister-in-law (Allison Tolman) need emergency babysitting for their teenage daughter Maddie (Bryn Vale), their last and least favorite choice is to call Kate. But desperation makes for strange bedfellows. Case in point: An aunt who hates children and a niece who hates high school.
Kate doesn’t realize that Maddie is literally No. 2 on the official class sh*t list, a girl who prefers karate to ballet, fantasy warfare to wearing pretty dresses, and eating chicken parmesan despite the fact that she’s allergic to tomatoes. It gets worse.
Maddie meets Dennis (Fabrizio Zacharee Guido) at a local gas station and strikes up a friendship. Dennis is a “juggalo,” a fan of the ’90s band Insane Clown Posse, a hip-hop horrorcore duo known for their violent lyrics, elaborate costumes and painted faces. Maddie is hooked and Kate is left to clean up after her.
When a day of babysitting turns into a week, Kate must survive Maddie’s disasters at home and at school, plus a backstabbing office mate and a neighbor (Kate McKinnon) who is intent on enforcing community rules. As with most families, chaos rules.
If this all sounds like a setup, it is. Writer and director Laura Steinel has given us a predictable premise. There’s lots of turmoil with Kate playing both the foil and the counselor, the outsider who “gets” Maddie more than her parents.
But fear not. Steinel has managed to give this film some heart to work with. Schilling, known for her comedy in Orange is the New Black, plays her role with good comic timing. Bryn Vale is perfect for this film, a long-suffering nightmare of high school and teenage angst as felt from the perspective of someone having her head stuffed in a toilet.
I suspect that Steinel has something personal to offer here, perhaps some of her own experiences about getting through the teenage years. While this film is predictable, it also feels familiar, as if some ancient memory is being tweaked about growing up and making it out alive. Despite what you know is coming, there is chemistry, and the ending lays out some good old-fashioned Juggalo fun. Stay for the credits. It’s a nice touch.
Family is lightweight but not without its moments of fun and heartache. I’m guessing that most adults who remember their teen years will find something to identify with; most of all, Maddie’s fears and complaints about not fitting in. If you were one of those kids, this movie will ring true for you and maybe even make you laugh. If not, it might do well to remind you that some of those weird kids that you knew in high school (like Bill Gates and Madonna) grew up to rule the world.