Fang fiction

Jason Bateman on getting to know one's parents and The Family Fang.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

The Family Fang director and star Jason Bateman on his screenwriter: "David Lindsay-Abaire …  has a Pulitzer Prize on his mantle - for good reason."
The Family Fang director and star Jason Bateman on his screenwriter: "David Lindsay-Abaire … has a Pulitzer Prize on his mantle - for good reason." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

With Volker Schlöndorff currently filming Return to Montauk, co-written with Colm Tóibín (John Crowley's Brooklyn), starring Stellan Skarsgård, Susanne Wolff, Nina Hoss and Niels Arestrup of Diplomacy fame, Jason Bateman explained that his Baxter's Montauk shirt belongs to Christopher Walken's Caleb in The Family Fang, which co-stars Nicole Kidman with Maryann Plunkett, Jason Butler Harner, Kathryn Hahn, Marin Ireland, Michael Chernus, Jack McCarthy and Mackenzie Brooke Smith.

Fang siblings Annie (Nicole Kidman) and Baxter (Jason Bateman)
Fang siblings Annie (Nicole Kidman) and Baxter (Jason Bateman)

Based on Kevin Wilson's novel with music by Carter Burwell, (who received a Best Original Score Oscar nomination for Todd Haynes' masterful Carol) edited by Robert Frazen with a John Boorman-esque Deliverance potato cannon scene, The Family Fang is about when one discovers that parents "are not these idyllic pillars of deference."

The film holds a magnifying glass to those moments in adulthood that catapult us back for an instant to a time when parents represented prudence and soundness , no matter how ludicrous they behaved. Used to being props in their parents' pop-up performance art since childhood, the adult Fang children have some outer and inner demons to face.

Baxter (Bateman) has become an author, mildly famous for a book called House Of Swans, and now suffers from writer's block. When an assignment goes wrong in a Deliverance meets Wilhelm Tell kind of way and Baxter ends up in the hospital with a potato cannon shot to his ear, the whole family reunites. His sister Annie (Kidman) is an actress with a stalling career and famous artist mom (Plunkett) and dad (Walken) seem to be busy with a disappearing act or possibly not. Parents dominated this year's Tribeca Film Festival and here a complicated fairy tale of sorts is played out.

A Family Fang performance on tape
A Family Fang performance on tape

Anne-Katrin Titze: Can you talk a bit about the Deliverance meets Wilhelm Tell potato cannon scene?

Jason Bateman: That is just a really well-written scene by David Lindsay-Abaire, who, you know, has a Pulitzer Prize on his mantle - for good reason. All my work was made very very simple because there's so much good execution around what I was doing. That was a fun scene to shoot. There's a bit of a montage that precedes it, or that is sort of an early component of that sequence. That was fun to construct and think up and then shoot.

We had to be a little bit nimble and malleable that day because those things can get away from you time-wise as you start to shoot them because you are trying to tell a story visually as opposed to with any dialogue and that can be a bit of a time suck. We certainly didn't have a luxurious shooting schedule on this and we had to be really judicious and efficient with building stuff like that.

AKT: It worked really well. It's really building up.

 Baxter about to have a Wilhelm Tell potato cannon moment
Baxter about to have a Wilhelm Tell potato cannon moment

JB: Thanks. I had really great editors on the film, too, and they helped a lot.

AKT: The relationship between the siblings - between child A [Annie played by Kidman] and child B [Baxter played by Jason] - at moments reminded me of Hansel and Gretel.

JB: Oh yeah?

AKT: They don't want to be abandoned by their parents.

JB: That's the one with the Big Bad Wolf, right?

AKT: No, it's the one with the witch. The parents abandon the children in the forest and he has pebbles to return home. Eventually, they have to kill the witch in order to return by pushing her in the oven.

JB: That's hilarious!

AKT: That could be your new superhero project!

JB: Marvel brings you Hansel and Gretel! I don't know if that's going to fly.

AKT: No, it's about children who don't want to let go of their parents. Isn't that the core of the movie?

Jason on his Montauk shirt: "So those were all Caleb's clothes,  you know, the character Chris Walken plays."
Jason on his Montauk shirt: "So those were all Caleb's clothes, you know, the character Chris Walken plays." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

JB: Yeah. The central and hopefully relatable theme and premise of this film is that anybody who is here or has ever been here has or has had parents. Therefore everybody has gone through that inevitable moment or process whereby your parents become human. They become as flawed as you are. You become old enough and perceptive enough to see through the disguise that they know how to wear.

The veneer that you are working on building yourself as you become older. And consequently, you kind of see - oh, wow, mom and dad are, not necessarily a fraud, but they are not these idyllic pillars of deference. They are not the models perhaps as much as they were when you were young and dumb. That realisation, that exposure can be equally comedic and dramatic. That's kind of the moment that we are visiting with Annie and Baxter.

They are kind of going through it and admitting it and emancipating themselves a little bit later than probably most of us. And that is also a little tragic. There's a kind of a tricky tone, I think, through the film that lends itself to comedy and to drama. It was really challenging, exciting to identify those moments in each one of those scenes and treat them as well as we possibly could.

AKT: One tiny detail - [in a few scenes of The Family Fang] you wear a shirt with a map that very obviously says "Montauk". Is there some inside joke about this shirt or you just like Montauk?

The Family Fang US poster at the Soho Grand Hotel
The Family Fang US poster at the Soho Grand Hotel Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

JB: Well, my character gets injured in an area that is somewhat close to where the parents live and the injury is to his ear, so he can't fly. So the parents drive to come get him and stick them at their house. Since it was just a day trip that he was on, he didn't have any clothes with him. So the whole film he has got to wear dad's clothes.

Those were all Caleb's clothes, you know, the character Chris Walken plays. So, that was just one of the shirts we thought Caleb might have in his closet, a closet that probably hasn't been updated in years and years and years. Montauk was probably - since the house is in Rockland County - they would have probably visited Montauk at some point.

Read what Maryann Plunkett and Christopher Walken had to say on The Family Fang and more.

The Family Fang opens in the US on April 29.

Jason Bateman will participate in a post-screening Q&A following the 7:30pm show and introduce the film at 10:20pm on Saturday, April 30, Angelika Film Center.

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