In a world full of films about white family dysfunction and self-hate, who knew that the Juggalo sub-culture would be a moving and accurate metaphor for family dysfunction? For those who are blissfully unaware of such a thing, Juggalos are fans of the band Insane Clown Posse and have a reputation for being violent, borderline bizarre deviants running around in clown makeup, teetering on the edge of society. In the film Family, it’s the perfect vehicle to talk about outcasts, being the black sheep of a family, and the masks we wear at home and work.
Disguised in the familiar trope of an unfeeling business woman forced to care for her niece for a week, director Laura Steinel’s Family tells the story of Kate who is forced to go to insane lengths to keep her extended family under control while balancing a career where she has all but alienated everyone around her. Starring Orange is the New Black’s Taylor Schilling as Kate, with a strong supporting performance from Atlanta’s Brian Tyree Henry and surprising great performances from child actors Bryn Vale and Fabrizio Guido, the film thrives off of these unlikable characters. The comedy comes from Schilling’s brash and brutal delivery, Henry’s earnest deadpan, and Vale’s bizarre naïveté. Comedian Kate McKinnon pops up brilliantly as that overprotective mom everyone knows and the always great character actor Allison Tolman plays a mom pushed to her limit with worry with nuance.
Where the film excels in comedic timing and strong performances, its main beats overly predictable, even with the whole Juggalo thing. We’ve seen the “businesswoman forced to care for a teenager, they bond, grow attached, the businesswoman then values family over work” before. Two things make this film work, the first is breezy 80-minute runtime. Any more time and these characters would be grating. The second is the performances with Schilling’s Kate and Vale’s Maddie at the center of it.
It is refreshing to see a female character played both sympathetic and unbearable at the same time. She can take an important account away from a pregnant lady and then be brutally ejected from an office baby shower in the same breath. Schilling has mastered this duality perfectly with every look and rare calculated smile. Kate has lost part of her humanity going after her career, gaining power and bluntness along with her corner office and assistant. Where another film would stray into anti-feminism territory, this one latches on to a weird, yet relatable niece, obsessed with magic, karate, fighting with trees, and eventually, Juggalos. This is a smart move. Instead of making Kate’s cute three-year-old with a lisp who shows her how hard but rewarding it is to be a part of a kid’s life, a la Raising Helen or any Hallmark movie, you have an awkward slightly overweight teenager who only likes chicken parm and finds spit endearing. She’s weird, and like Kate, unlikable and relatable at the same time.
Though predictable, Family proves that as long as the road is twisting and dark, it doesn’t matter that the ending is played out. It benefits from its experienced cast and its dive into the hilariously unappealing. And hey, any movie that can redeem Juggalos, even for a second, deserves to be given a chance.
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars