Blu-ray Review: In The Family

Prologue

I’ve written on a few occasions about films earning multiple appearances on this website, namely at the start of a series of posts on Django Unchained. However, even if the film does engender multiple write-ups that doesn’t mean I will hesitate to champion it whenever and whenever I can.

Such is the case of the self-distributed In the Family, which in good old-fashioned barnstorming fashion went around the country city-by-city for more than a year, if not two. Now that its arrived on both Blu-ray and DVD, the great equalizers of the film marketplace, it deserves a proper mention here.

This is a film that I not only reviewed upon having seen it but also won the BAM Award for Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for two others so it’s a home video title I was quite excited to get to view.

If you have yet to see it I recommend you watch the film via rental means. If you feel as strongly about it as I, and many others do, rest assured that the video release could not come more highly recommended.

Introduction

In the Family (2011, In the Family)

Since I viewed the film, and became a fan, I tracked its progress and further triumphs both on its Facebook and Twitter pages. One day on Facebook I saw a pull-quote of a DVD review I could not get out of my head which compared it to a Criterion release. That’s high praise but that comparison echoed through my mind repeatedly as I got willfully immersed in the myriad special features.

What’s great about a film like In the Family is that it is nuanced enough to earn not only the bonuses that are included on the disc, but any others that may come along should Criterion ever pick it up. As I finished reading the varied essays in a booklet that was included, it struck me that quite a few other topics could’ve been explored – that’s how you know you have a nuanced title.

The Features

In the Family (2011, In the Family)

The special features are many and are for the most part all pretty great. I have to admit to not watching too many video essays but the two by outside parties on this disc really exploit the technique brilliantly: one exploring, and further extrapolating visual motifs of the film, expounding upon vague notions I had that really underscore why the film is as effective as it is; another is a great recounting of a Q & A session Wang had in San Francisco. Having been on both sides of the Q & A equation I must tell you it’s fascinating to have this perspective wherein the discussion points and conversations have been digested. Usually you go, listen to, ask or answer the question and it ends, here it reflects back on the kind of impact the film already was having.

Wang narrates two great featurettes one called A Tour of the Cutting Room Floor and another called Sculpting a Scene. In the former, he, more methodically than most, illustrates deleted scenes and shot and discusses why they went unused in the final edit. However, even more valuable than that is Sculpting a Scene. The scene chosen is one of several long takes in the film so rather than discuss editing he discusses through three takes the evolution of the camerawork, lighting and acting and gives examples of the sound edit by switching between production sound and the final audio mix. Whether you’re a filmmaker or enthusiast it’s really great to get that focused and that dramatic an example of the craft of filmmaking.

Lastly, comes the trailer and a behind the scenes video. The trailer was interesting for me to see because I hadn’t seen it ahead of watching the film and not since. It’s a really well done trailer that employs an approach so many other films would do well to learn from. “Cut it like this,” producers and marketers should say. The Behind the Scenes is not so much a making of as a collection of outtakes, however, incorporating music from the film makes that a bit of an artistic achievement also.

As for the written essays they were equally, if not more, compelling than the video essays; and as I mentioned earlier got me thinking that there were other segments, motifs and themes that could’ve been explored also. However, then this bundle might be approaching a bundle with a book the thickness of a BFI Classics book and a disc in tow.

Conclusion

In the Family (2011, In the Family LLC)

I wanted to write about this film again because it’s deserving of more recognition and audience but also thinking that it might be my ode to its coming home to me after its nomadic journey found me and convinced me to go see it. However, maybe there’s one more piece in me about it. Perhaps it would be about dragons and Ingmar Bergman or the the virtues of carefully fractured chronologies. With In The Family now being available to take home I feel it will be a film written about for many years to come.

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Review- In the Family

It seems to me more often than not, whenever I see a good to great film that I wasn’t necessarily expecting to see there’s always at least a decent story to it. Somehow, in the barrage of year-end awards and best of lists, I missed noting the title In the Family, at the tail end of 2011. I guess I didn’t retain or read Slant’s list as carefully as I thought, either that or I hadn’t seen it anywhere near me so it was almost like it had yet to exist. However, that lack of availability kept it alive for this year’s BAMs. Now, oddly enough when I saw this month’s schedule at Theatre N, I saw it, it seemed like a likely view but it didn’t jump out not right away. Then the weekend it’s playing came, and thanks to an abysmal weekend of new summer releases it was the only game in town, so far as I was concerned. However, I was still under-informed. I read the synopsis, seemed good. However, I didn’t immediately note the running time.

In trying to schedule my day, I did. The film runs 2 hours and 49 minutes. I do not have hard and fast rules regarding running-times, as my commendations for Satantango and Berlin Alexanderplatz clearly indicate. Yes, I prefer comedies that run 90 minutes or less when speaking in generalities, that does not mean I’ve never liked one longer. The Avengers is only about 25 minutes shorter and I never heard anyone complain about how long it is. However, I do have to concede that it is a factor. So what I did was I started to read up on it, just a bit. Based on what I saw I wanted to give a go.

With this film, and my prior example, you have two instances that highlight the difference between running time and pace. Anyone can make a film this long, or longer, if they want to, and frequently early assemblies and cuts are. What matters is what you do with the running time you’ve allotted your story. I’ve seen films a third as long as this one that feel twice as long as it actually is. There are films that feel like they will never end and others you wish wouldn’t, and this one is much closer to the latter than the former.

The term deliberate pace is not, in my mind, a polite way of saying slow. There are scenes that don’t cut, but there are scenes that are rather quick, which add to the tone and help the film pace itself. It is by no means the test of endurance that The Turin Horse is, even though that film is shorter.

So preambles aside, the film works beautifully in large part due to the restraints is shows. The film tells the tale of of a custody battle following the death of one partner in a same sex relationship. That’s the film in its simplest terms, now the film could be handled differently and still work but then it would run the risk of pigeonholing itself as a gay film, or a racial film or a courtroom film, depending on how the plot unfolds. It could quickly become maudlin and melodramatic. However, in restraining its emotion, allowing it to build in its characters and its audience it creates a tremendously universal and human story that I’m sure many can relate to, whether it reflects anything in their life or not. One example of the restraint, and a litmus test of sorts for films with gay themes, is that the words “gay” or “homosexual,” or any pejorative variation thereof are not spoken. This is a clear choice it seems that underlines both the humanity of the story and the underlying hostilities and prejudices that exist.

Dave (Peter Hermann), Eileen (Kelly McAndrew), Jefferson (Eugene Brell), Joey (Patrick Wang), Paul (Brian Murray), Court Reporter (Marsha Waterbury) in In the Family (In the Family)

The drama in the film is always palpable because the film cloisters its characters. In certain scenes it just allows us to watch a few characters behave and interact, without dialogue but there is still much being said. There’s a lot of film theory banter about simply watching behavior, but like everything in this film it doesn’t push this aspect to the extreme either. There are small, delicate, wonderful scenes like this sprinkled throughout; a fantastic example is Chip (Sebastian Banes, credited in this film as Sebastian Brodziak) getting himself and Joey (Patrick Wang) a drink after the funeral.

Aside from having well-tempered scene lengths, the film also structures itself well and interestingly. There are three flashbacks, which all occur post-mortem. The film begins in medias res, after Cody’s (Trevor St. John) death is where we start to get to know him and miss him as Joey does. There are also I believe four segments of the film that begin in black with some audio coming in to precede the scene, bringing us slowly into the current moment and visually dividing the story (the first occurs at the very beginning with a gorgeously languid fade in).

Dave (Peter Hermann) and Eileen (Kelly McAndrew) in In the Family (In the Family)

The acting in this film is quite nearly impeccable. It can be said that a running time such as this gives the actors more time to develop their character, hone their performance but that would be ignoring the fact that the work still does have to be done. Wang particularly has a lot of heavy lifting to do in the third act, his physicality is a lot of what takes us along but at the end it’s just him, speaking to his family and speaking to us and it’s nothing less than monumental that this “unedited” deposition scene works. It keeps with the cloistered aspect of the film but brings things full circle and is riveting. However, Kelly McAndrew’s reaction shots during this scene are breathtaking also. The real find of the film, however, may be Sebastian Banes. Actors around his age, he plays a character who is six, with as much natural talent and charisma are rare. A few scenes in I was already comparing him favorably to Drew Barrymore.

In the Family
is a revelation in many ways, not only for my story of not really having heard about it and then having it fall into my lap but also for revealing the tremendous budding auteur that is Patrick Wang. It’s a crime how under-seen this film is and I cannot recommend it to you highly enough.

10/10