SXSW 2018 Review: Family is a Hilarious and Heartfelt Indie Gem About Being True to Yourself.
One of my most anticipated films to premiere at SXSW wasn’t a big studio release but rather a small little indie called Family. Despite being excited to see the film, I knew very little about it besides the paragraph long plot description featured on the SXSW app. The reason why I was excited to see Family was because the plot sounded strange. I love taking a chance on a film that sounds different because not only do they usually turn out to be good films but feature original ideas that go against the grain. Films like Family remind audiences that unique and original stories are still being written. They may be few and far between in Hollywood, but independent filmmakers continue to tell stories that dare to be different.
Taylor Schilling plays Kate, the Vice President of a financial firm who makes a lot of money. Kate is a workaholic and hates being around people especially children. While Kate may not be the most personable person, she has built a very successful career and is very good at her job as long as it doesn’t involve interacting with others. Out of the blue, Kate gets a call from her brother Joe (Eric Edelstein) who asks her to come over because he is in desperate need of a favor. It turns out that his mother in law is very sick and he needs to help his wife Cheryl (Alison Tolman) take care of her sick mother. Because they don’t have any other family nearby, Joe asks Kate to look after their daughter Maddie (Bryn Vale) for the night. Kate immediately refuses to help but is guilted into doing so which is when the fun begins.
Family is a dark comedy about a successful woman who just happens also to be a total asshole. Kate is the type of person that you just love to hate. She is entirely self-absorbed and treats others as though they are idiots. The film opens with Kate trying to sneak into a co-workers baby shower that she wasn’t invited to. She stops by only to steal a piece of cake but overhears a conversation about an account. Kate immediately interrupts the conversation and informs her co-worker that she has been taken off the account because she is pregnant and therefore isn’t committed to her job. Kate takes the conversation one step further by telling the mom to be that she probably won’t be returning to work after the baby is born to which the woman replies “you can’t fire someone because they are pregnant.” This is the type of person that Kate is someone who doesn’t believe in a life that doesn’t revolve around work.
The way that Schilling brings Kate to life is so refreshing to see in a film. Kate is a miserable person despite having a great career. The old phrase “money can’t buy happiness” definitely applies to Kate as she has no friends, ignores her family, and spends every night alone. When Kate picks up Maddie from ballet class for the first time, there is an instant spark that occurs between these two distant family members. Kate doesn’t want to take care of Maddie, but as she spends more time with her, she begins to see pieces of herself in her niece. They spend a lot of time together and learn about one another. Despite Kate being incredibly judgemental, she supports Maddie in wanting to stand out. She pushes her to wear whatever she wants and take karate vs. ballet. There is something very reassuring about all of this because Maddie wants to go against the norm and her aunt is supporting her while her mother and father are not.
The SXSW official plot description for Family suggests that the Maddie wants to run away from home and become a Juggalo, but that description is a bit misleading. While Maddie is interested in becoming a Juggalo that isn’t the true focus of the film. The real focus of the film is to showcase the importance of family and highlight how Kate’s priorities and personality changes due to the relationship that she never knew she would have with Maddie. The Juggalos do make an appearance near the end of the film and how the film ties everything together works well to highlight the true meaning of the group which has a history for being looked down upon in the media. I love that this film that celebrates being different and does so without being formulaic.
Taylor Schilling’s performance as Kate is a comedic tour-de-force. While I wouldn’t consider myself the biggest fan of Orange is the New Black, I have followed Schilling’s career over the years and think she is incredibly talented. If you ever had doubts that Schilling couldn’t lead a comedy, this film will change your mind. Schilling not only has excellent comedic timing but perfect line delivery. She plays Kate as a sarcastic know it all who constantly judges other people. I love how direct Kate was and loved the scenes where she asks people why they would go to eat at certain restaurants. The way that Schilling delivers dialogue is so matter-of-fact and listening to her talk to other people is so incredibly funny because of Schilling’s deadpan delivery.
Writer/director Laura Steinel is a talent worth keeping an eye on. What she has done with Family is pretty spectacular. She has created a feature film that is centered around a very unlikable woman that constantly belittles and looks down on others yet somehow makes her relatable and likable. I hadn’t laughed this much in a film since Girl’s Trip last summer. The writing is incredibly smart, sharp and witty. Both my wife and I were blown away by how hilarious and heartfelt this film turned out to be. Steinel deserves a ton of credit for this. The way that she captures the family dynamic of Kate’s family while comparing it to that of the Juggalos makes the overall film even more worthwhile.
While there were a lot of great independent films at SXSW this year, Family is my personal favorite. I love films that focus on dysfunctional families and feel that this is one of the best ones in recent memory. The chemistry between Taylor Schilling and Bryn Vale is absolute perfection and completely carries the film from start to finish. Family is an outrageously funny film with a ton of heart and emotion. If you have a chance to check this one out, do yourself the favor and see it.
Scott ‘Movie Man’ Menzel’s rating for Family is a 9 out of 10.