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Theatrical Review: IN THE FAMILY

Jason Whyte

May 28th, 2012

There's a single but spectacular moment in IN THE FAMILY that solidifies why I love the power of the movies. There's a flashback scene at about the middle point of the movie, where we discover the "first kiss" moment of two people just getting to know each other. In an unbroken take, we see these two characters enter a house. They move from the kitchen to the living room. Music is played. They joke around, but sitting apart from each other for a few moments. They suddenly start to move together. When the first kiss happens between these two characters, it doesn't happen on a perfect beat but more on an abrupt one.

Think about that for a second. We have all been there in that moment, haven't we? We have all been in that situation where we know we're attracted to someone, that person is attracted right back, but there's still that air of uncertainty. That moment where all the walls come down and the first kiss finally happens is nothing short of terrifying, exciting and a relief all at once.

I mention this scene because Patrick Wang's outstanding debut film IN THE FAMILY is a movie full of big, sweeping moments like this, yet retains its intimate, emotional core throughout. This movie is REAL. It plays real. With that said, it's also a movie that comes out swinging and refusing to be ignored, with an epic scope from a filmmaker who has a clear vision in his mind on a great story he wants to tell.

IN THE FAMILY is the story of a two-dad family growing up in the middle of Tennessee. Joey (Patrick Wang) is an Asian man with a thick Tennessee accent who has been living with his partner Cody (Trevor St. John). They have a son named Chip (Sebastian Banes) who is Cody's biological son. When Cody suddenly dies in a car crash, his extended family comes back into the picture in a big way. Despite Joey and Cody being in a long term relationship for several years, Cody never re-drafted his will, leaving custody of Chip to Cody's sister. Cody's sister and husband decide to take Chip away from Joey, leaving him all alone. Living as a gay Asian man in Tennessee poses its problems, but Joey does have friends at his work who give support, and there's also a retired lawyer at his current work who also comes into the picture.

I really want to stop there, as this is not just a film about a man trapped in a unsolvable situation trying to get custody back of his partner's son. As the film slowly reveals in flash backs and conversations with the people around Joey, we learn slowly about Joey's past and what has led him here. He has a past. A story of how and why Joey and Chip came together (including the aforementioned "first kiss"), their past relationship with their family and where it was going to head. There's also two sides to this story and both sides have their understandable issues with each other, and the movie is amazing in how we get to see different types of ethnic and generation types of behavior.

This is also not a movie that is preaching gay rights or equality, but rather shows this subject in a realistic manner today. Nearly everyone personally connected to Joey and Cody accept their relationship, and it is nice to see all stereotypes thrown out the window. When Joey tries to seek legal advice, a memorable lawyer character gives him an explanation that is not insulting to Joey, but one that helps him understand that he may have to change his outlook. And in one of the most beautiful scenes in the movie, we see what happens when Joey is not allowed to see Cody when he is in the hospital. Not because he's looked down upon for his sexual preference, but just because the nurse is confused when he tries to assure her that he is family.

In addition to all of this, the movie has an ace up its sleeve with its pacing. At an epic three hours, we are given a very candid look into a happy relationship that eventually unravels and pulls itself back together. Patrick Wang's use of long takes, silence in watching routines unfold and even hand held photography in crucial moments is nothing short of remarkable. The movie needs the time to breathe, to let us watch human interaction, and it is all leading somewhere; a final deposition sequence that has more emotional depth, more nail biting suspense than any film I have seen in a long time. Shown in real time, this sequence is performed in long master shots, with few cuts and a very plain conference room setting. Yet combining the performances, the blocking and reality of the situation, it is the type of sequence that could be shown in film schools as how to exactly direct a scene to captivate an audience.

Patrick Wang, who does nearly everything in this film from being the Tennessee-accented lead to writing, directing and producing the picture, is a force of a new talent. To succeed both as one of the best indie-director sensations of recent memory is just as mesmerizing as to see a near flawless performance that deserves every award it can get. It's so rare to see a filmmaker be so completely aware of exactly the type of movie he wants to make and keeps us completely wrapped up in one moment to the next. Credit must also be given to an extraordinary cast and crew; everyone from Trevor St. John to the young Sebastian Banes all give unforgettable performances, and the cinematography by Frank Barrera suggets a mix between Mike Leigh and John Cassavetes' long takes and flow.

This is a film you may not have heard of before (it is currently in that area of film festival limbo and slowly doing a "roadshow" tour to many American and Canadian cities) but will shake you up and not let you forget it long after viewing. Of course it has its red flags; yes, the movie is 170 minutes long which could be a roadblock to some people wanting a fun night out at the movies. Yet I have only skimmed the surface of the sheer power of the movie of which I want you to take a chance on. Like that wonderful memory of a first kiss, or a hug from a loved one, or when a friend reaches out to help, IN THE FAMILY is a movie of small and beautiful moments with big ambition behind it.

Grade: A

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