CAPSULE: A gay man fights to regain the custody of his son who is the biological child of his deceased life partner. IN THE FAMILY is a moving film that will remind viewers of the emotional tugs of a KRAMER VS. KRAMER. This is a very good 165-minute film, but it could have made a better 105-minute film. The newcomer producer, director, and star Patrick Wang starts out making one of the best films of the year. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Currently legally there is a difference between the rights of a spouse and of a gay life partner. IN THE FAMILY is a drama that takes place in that gap. For years Cody and Joey (played by director/writer/producer Patrick Wang) were effectively a married couple living in Martin, Tennessee. Together they raised Cody's delightful biological son, Chip (Sebastian Brodziak). But then Cody is badly injured in a traffic accident and the hospital will not even give Joey permission to see Cody. When Cody dies his family wants to pretend that Joey never existed. An out-dated will names Cody's sister Sally (Park Overall) as Chip's guardian, and Joey finds he will lose Chip to Sally. It takes a while before Joey can seriously take all the changes in. Then he realizes the law is on Sally's side and he is going to have to fight if he wants to raise Chip. The film takes the time to show us in flashbacks how Joey and Cody's relationship developed. But Joey is usually center stage through the entire film and Wang is able to keep that compelling enough that it does not seem like a director favoring his character.
In large part the film lives or dies on Wang's ability to present us with an extraordinary and compelling view of Joey. For almost the entire film he does that flawlessly. Only in the very late part of the film does he make Joey seem just a little too perfect. Rare is the actor who could present a character so sincerely without going a little bit over the top. But this is an emotional film and audiences will be reminded of films like KRAMER VS. KRAMER. That film was about fathers' rights (or more accurately the lack thereof) in a legal system that overly favored the mother over the father in child custody conflicts. This film is very much a KRAMER VS. KRAMER for our time, but centering on gay rights and unmarried spouse rights.
The characters are civil to each other in a thin veneer of politeness that betrays certain prejudices of an earlier time. Wang has cast himself as Chinese in his origins but having lived his life in the South. One suspects that that is true of Wang himself. It is interesting that Wang goes through almost the whole film without mentioning that Wang's character Joey is Chinese in origin. Nobody mentions it. But the fact he is Chinese and is gay is behind much of what people think of Joey. There is not a trace of Chinese accent in his speech. His Joey is able not just to convince us that his character would be a good father, but that he would be a near perfect father. That is not easy to do on the screen without making him cloyingly sweet.
Wang draws the viewer emotionally into the situation and makes the one mistake of the production. He is a long film with what is at times some very slow pacing. Not every film has to be a speed chase to be under two hours, of course. But Wang occasionally drags a wordless scene on without much action on the screen for what turns into a long take. Perhaps he is conveying an emotion, but he can do that without creating an artificially slow pacing. Through much of this the viewer knows what is going on in the characters' head. Different editing could have conveyed the same emotion in a shorter space of time. That is part of the point of editing. The film could have been better in a trimmer form that could have been even more potent in 105 minutes than it was at 165. This is a poignant story of a legal situation in which both sides are trying to find what is right and wrong under a great deal of emotional stress.
The unknown but excellent cast of actors and director. It is an affecting experience. I rate IN THE FAMILY a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1845804/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/in_the_family_2011/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper