You know that primly annoyed nice-ish guy Jason Bateman has played time and again, the straight arrow whose barely-held-in disgust suggests that universal American feeling that it's everyone but you who is the selfish idiot? If you've ever suspected that the real Bateman was himself swallowing back some annoyance at the stupidity of projects like Identity Thief, here's the best evidence yet. His second feature, The Family Fang, is a tense and involving dysfunction indie that starts as dark comedy but later stretches into mystery, melodrama and arts criticism.
That doesn't mean it starts promisingly. The story, adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from Kevin Wilson's novel, has Bateman and Nicole Kidman moping through the kind of adult lives real people dream of: He's a novelist and she's a screen actress. Like all siblings in funny-sad indie things, they must band together to deal with their parents (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett). The Fangs were roving performance artists, staging and filming confrontational happenings at banks, parks and -- occasionally -- in their own kids' lives.
Like street preachers, the Fangs impressed their children into their public troublemaking, the father referring to them in cold, materials-minded shorthand as Child A and Child B. As adults, the kids turn apostate, refusing to participate in a disturbance at an amusement park. The parents favor conceptual art, and the kids are just trying to make a living crafting un-terrible entertainment. Wilson's novel and Bateman's film don't just showcase this rift -- they mine gold from it. Bateman is nimble in handling a tricky mix of flashbacks and pranks, genres and tones, and Kidman fills out her director's deceptively loose long takes with surprising beats and richly textured feeling.