That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

In the Family

Saturday, July 7th, 2012 8:59 pm—Film

In the Family (USA 2011, Drama), Writer/Director: Patrick Wang

I owe a big thank you to BD—the person who kick-started this film blog—for recommending In the Family. Actually, she emailed me from Vancouver, where she saw the film a few weeks ago, and told me I HAD to see it and then write about it. Just following orders…

I saw In the Family today at Empire Kanata because its writer, director and star, Patrick Wang, was in attendance for a Q&A after the screening. What a treat that was. He self-financed and is self-distributing the film, and is so genuinely enthusiastic that he follows the movie everywhere it plays. He also emanates the same warmth and compassion that flows throughout the film, making it very clear how In the Family came to be such a human and touching piece.

The movie covers a lot of ground, and that likely has to do with the fact that, in writing the script, Wang says he wasn’t always sure where it was going; he let the process take him where it wanted to take him. So to zoom in a bit for you, the film’s focus is on Joey (Wang), his partner Cody (Trevor St. John) and their six-year-old son Chip (Sebastian Banes). Chip is the biological son of Cody and his former wife, who died during childbirth. But he’s raised by Cody and Joey, both of whom he calls “dad.”

The main action starts up when Cody dies in a car accident, and Joey’s role in his life—and in Chip’s—comes into question. Cody’s will is years out of date, and he and Joey, being a gay couple in Tennessee, never legalized their union. So Cody’s worldly possessions are left in the care of his sister, Eileen (Kelly McAndrew), who takes it upon herself to appropriate Chip, leaving Joey to wrestle with the complexities and legalities of what defines a parent.

That’s the thrust of the film’s drama. But In the Family shines its light on many other societal nooks and crannies. It explores the insidious inequalities gay couples face, even when they’re “accepted” by the family; subtly touches on racism (Joey is Asian); and beautifully examines how so much more can accomplished through communication and understanding than through hostility and aggression.

Even more than that, In the Family looks at life the way we really live it. One of the noteworthy aspects of the film is its pacing and length. It’s just 10 minutes shy of three hours—a running time that’s kept it from several festivals and theatres. The movie got that way because of its patient, lingering exploration of its characters and their lives.

During the Q&A, Wang said he hadn’t planned on such a measured pace, but after seeing the dailies, he fell in love with the flow and knew it was right for his film. As a result, we’re left with a lasting, impactful look at real life. Because we’re privy to those slow-going, regular workaday conversations, or the quiet joy of two people falling in love—without the maudlin score—or the beautiful, quirky nuttiness of kids being kids, we’re invited in to the most intimate moments of Wang’s characters’ lives, be they funny, heartbreaking or simply ordinary.

In addition to lingering shots and a tempered camera, Wang makes some interesting choices with his framing. At times, the camera watches the action from outside, or from a noisy hallway, leaving conversations to go on without us. Wang also obscures our perception by showing only torsos of his characters. Sometimes, they move into frame and we see their faces; other times, they stay just out of full sight throughout the scene.

I asked Wang about some of those aesthetic choices, and he said he’s in love with the idea of mystery, of leaving something up to the audience’s imagination. That is, after all, how we go about real life; we don’t always get the full picture.

In the Family is remarkable because it bravely explores topics that aren’t given their due, and does so in an unconventional way. Wang says he turned down prospective funders because they wanted to turn it into “every other movie.” In the Family is most definitely not that.

What it is, though, is an extremely impressive debut film. (Wang cut his acting and directorial chops on the Boston theatre scene.) The idea for In the Family came to him when he saw two dads playing soccer in a park with their child. As he observed the family, he wondered about their life and what led them to where they were on that day.

Wang brings that same curious, insightful eye to his film. He lets us watch, imagine and discover, sharing his observations with us and inviting us to explore our own.

*            *            *

After completing its 18-month international tour, In the Family is now available on DVD through Amazon and Netflix. For the film’s latest news, ‘Like’ the In the Family Facebook page and follow @inthefamilyfilm on Twitter.

BD, thanks again for another awesome movie recommendation. And GOOD LUCK in Colombia! (BD will play for Team Canada in the Flying Disc/Ultimate Frisbee division at the 2013 World Games in Cali, Colombia.)

2 Responses

  1. Martha Ferguson

    Fantastic review!! Hope there are many more for your movie. You (everyone who made the movie) deserve a standing ovation!!

  2. amanda

    Glad you liked the review, Martha! Keep spreading the word about Patrick’s film – hopefully he’ll get lots more (well deserved) attention.

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