In The Family is a stunning debut feature film

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Starring Patrick Wang and Sebastian Brodziak. Rated G.

A chalkboard in the foreground bears a teacher’s scrawled request to reduce a problem down to its “absolute values”. The teacher, it turns out, is one of a small boy’s two daddies, and when he’s pulled out of the equation, the results are all too complicated.

A stunning debut feature for writer-director Patrick Wang, In The Family also stars the young theatre veteran as Joey Williams, a pickup-driving, southern-twanged reno specialist and surviving partner of Cody (Trevor St. John, mostly seen in flashback), whose sudden demise turns the whole family upside down. Although shot in upstate New York, the tale is set in small-town Tennessee. Because the couple has no legal standing, Joey’s right to the house, to bank accounts, and—most crucially—to parent six-year-old Chip (the superbly natural Sebastian Brodziak) are all called into question.

Cody’s family, mostly paralyzed by grief, don’t call up their better angels. The couple’s homosexuality and even Joey’s Asian background are not central issues, yet they loom silently over subsequent interactions with the legal system, which treats the goodhearted protagonist’s claims with a barely polite curl of the lip. Eventually, however, he meets a retired, Clarence Darrow–like lawyer (played unforgettably by South African stage actor Brian Murray) who encourages him to look at the situation through different eyes.

That’s the aim of the film itself, which is almost three hours long and favours uninterrupted takes and off-kilter compositions that often shove the players to the margins of the frame. Some sequences could undoubtedly be trimmed, and Cody’s stated fixation on the music of Chip Taylor (hence the son’s name) is perhaps overly supported by the fact that Taylor plays his dad.

In any case, it’s worth investing the time in this lovingly crafted, plainspoken plea for elemental compassion.


Watch the trailer for In The Family.

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