Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Sebastian Brodziak (a.k.a. Sebastian Banes), Patrick Wang, Trevor St. John, Lisa Altomare, Susan Kellermann, Conan McCarty, Harriett D. Foy, Zachary Sayle, Georgie DeNoto, Juliette Allen-Angelo, Eisa Davis, Peter Hermann, Gina Tognoni, Kit Flanagan, Park Overall
Written by: Patrick Wang
Directed by: Patrick Wang
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 169
Date: 10/16/2011
IMDB

In the Family (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Father's Days

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In the Family sounds dreadful. It's almost three hours long, has a boring title, and tells the story of a custody battle. But don't let that deter you. This is actually a most astounding feature film debut, daring in more ways that one. It comes from Patrick Wang, whose background is mostly in theater. He also stars in the movie as an unlikely hero: Joey, a soft-spoken, gay Asian man with a soft Tennessee twang.

The movie doesn't openly explain anything, but we pick up as we go along that Joey works as a designer in Tennessee. He fell in love with one of his clients, Cody (Trevor St. John), who recently lost his wife and has a young son. Now it's six years later, and Cody and Joey have been raising the boy, Chip (Sebastian Banes), together, successfully and happily.

Unfortunately, Cody dies and his will -- not updated anytime recently -- stipulates that Chip goes to his sister. Joey finds that as the gay lover and the non-biological father, lawyers are not too eager to help him. Wang unfolds the story in long, matter-of-fact takes, which include flashbacks to earlier days with Cody (their first kiss). The story fleshes itself out in its own time.

One nearly wordless shot really struck me: as Joey and Chip come home from the funeral, the camera is mounted in the kitchen. It doesn't even matter that the characters must walk out of frame to get around the kitchen counter; it just happens. Joey sits down and begins sorting the mail. Chip gets Joey a beer and a soft drink for himself. Joey starts tossing the junk mail on the floor, and Chip retrieves it and places it in the recycling bin. As far as I remember, not a word is uttered. The plot isn't furthered in this moment, but volumes are spoken about these two characters. This may be the first time that Joey has handled the mail -- Cody was always in charge of that stuff -- and Cody and Chip are learning how to be father and son by themselves.

Even when the climax comes in the form of Joey's hearing, the powerful actor Wang pedals his big speech softly... it sounds like a breakfast table confessional, something that just happens rather than something that was planned to knock the audience out of their seats.

I'm not sure why most movies have developed a specific plunge-ahead tempo, ignoring the little moments between that can say so much more. In the Family says very little and moves hardly at all, but it captures invisible rhythms in our lives as human beings that very few American movies ever get close to. This is a truly remarkable film. Wang is currently self-distributing it, so please seek it out. It opened April 27, 2012 in San Francisco, and will hopefully continue to make the rounds around the country.
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