Uptight, work-obsessed adult learns to chill out and become a better person after being forced to spend time with a troubled child. We've seen that story countless times onscreen. Rarely is the formula done as well as it is in Family, though. Writer/director Laura Steinel's film has two significant advantages – a fresh take on the concept (add Juggalos!) and a killer lead performance from Taylor Schilling. This is the funniest movie so far this year.
Schilling plays Kate, a career-minded woman whose singular focus causes her to act like a jerk to her co-workers, who enjoy the inconceivable-to-her concept of having a life outside the office. Kate's world is about to change, although she doesn't know it. Brother Joe (Eric Edelstein) and sister-in-law Cheryl (Allison Tolman) talk her into babysitting their 13-year-old daughter Maddie (Bryn Vale) for a few days while they move Cheryl's mother into hospice.
Maddie is the very definition of an outcast. She avoids girlie things, preferring instead to wear capes, take karate lessons, and make homemade swords out of sticks she finds in the backyard. Maddie also wants to become a Juggalo after earning the attention of a teenage boy who works in a convenience store and embraces that lifestyle.
For those uninitiated, Juggalos are fans of the rap group Insane Clown Posse, known for their love of Faygo soda, marijuana, face paint, and raising more hell than you can shake a stick at. Here's a good primer on them.
Early scenes in Family offer funny glimpses of Kate struggling to fit into a quasi-parental role. She's so wrapped up in work, for instance, that she drives away from a store, unknowingly leaving Maddie behind. Rather than cooking the child dinner, Kate simply takes her to a pizzeria every night. There are additionally several hilarious interactions with the next-door-neighbor (Kate McKinnon) who unsuccessfully tries to impose neighborhood rules on Kate. The movie has great fun riffing on how self-absorbed workaholics can be, to the detriment of those around them.
The last half-hour really ramps up the comedy, as Kate makes her way to the annual Gathering of the Juggalos in search of the runaway Maddie. (This is not a spoiler. The opening scene informs you it's going to happen.) Family mines big laughs from the absurdity of Juggalo culture without becoming condescending toward it. Maddie is an outcast. Kate is one, too, in her own way. Putting them amidst passionate – and similarly looked down upon – ICP fans is perfectly apt.
The two main performances help elevate Family above similarly plotted films. Following her work in The Overnight, Taylor Schilling once again proves herself to be an extraordinary comedic actress. She convincingly dulls Kate's edges over time, without fully erasing them. That proves important in maintaining the integrity of the character and allowing the story's payoff to feel earned. Her exasperated reactions to everything from Maddie's eating habits to the hedonism of the Juggalo festival are hysterical. Bryn Vale is also excellent, totally selling us on the way Maddie's self-confidence grows via this unusual journey.
Family is sharply written and packed with comically stinging dialogue. Running a trim 83 minutes, it takes you through the transformation of two people in side-splitting style. As the Juggalos themselves might put it, whoop whoop!
out of four
Family is rated R for language, some sexual content and drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 23 minutes.