A Movie About Performance Art: The Family Fang
How bad can performance artists' parenting skills be?
After a childhood of taking an active part to the artistic pieces of their famous performance artist parents, Annie (Nicole Kidman) and Baxter (Jason Bateman) are now living apart from each other as well as from their parents, struggling with their own careers and with the consequences of their upbringing. The family is brought back together when an accident occurs to Baxter, but soon the parents disappear unexpectedly, leaving their car behind, with the seats covered in blood.
While Baxter is genuinely worried, thinking that the worst might have happened, Annie only sees it as just another desperate performance by their parents.
As they look for clues to solve the mystery, we see parts of the performances that made the family so famous, with the kids playing along in fake robberies gone wrong and emergencies on the beach.
It’s interesting to point out that the very first performance the film opens with is the one that goes wrong, since Baxter, who was just a little boy, couldn’t resist tasting his mom’s fake blood. This draws us into the kids’ dimension, showing how they were actually having fun with their parents.
The performances appear on screen with their title and year, commented on by a voice over, thus framing them as works of art which must be enjoyed and interpreted as the artifice they are.
As the voice over goes:
“The Fangs simply throw themselves into a space as if they were grenades, and wait for the disruption to occur. They seemed to have no expectations other that wilfully cause unrest.
This kind of event is so rudimentary, so unencumbered by the traditions that have come before it, that it almost strains the notion of what constitutes art.”
Such consideration is followed by a funny but meaningful quarrel between two journalists, who stand on the opposite grounds of the everlasting debate about art. The first one is overwhelmed by the artistry of the Fangs’ performances that challenge art itself, while the second one stands on the most common positions: “just because you attach a statement, it doesn’t make it art.”
The whole sequence is very effective, establishing the Fang family as artists by showing their art and the debate raised by it. As we will see later in the movie, this is precisely what the Fangs are aiming for: a reaction, a resurrection of the viewer who, thanks to their work of art, will see things in a new way.
However, although starting from such good premises, the film’s pace falters and fails the artistic aim just described. The whole emotional charge is not well constructed and gives in when we most need it: at the end. Still, the film has merit for talking about performance artists to a larger public, but framing them in their role of unaffective parents who live and act only for art.
Want to learn more about performance art?
Read our pill The Disruptive Power of Performance Art!
Writers: David Lindsay-Abaire, based on a novel by Kevin Wilson
Cast: Jason Bateman, Nicole Kidman, Kathryn Hahn, Christopher Walken