Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In The Family

A Solemn Heartfelt Plea For Love And Justice
Patrick Wang as Joey and Trevor  St. John as Cody, in "In The Family".  Mr. Wang wrote, directed, produced and distributed the epic drama.  In The Family Productions


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"In The Family", written, directed, produced and self-distributed by Patrick Wang -- after 30 film festival rejections over the last year -- is an eloquent story about family and appealing to conscience to unify it.  Directed in minimalist fashion, the episodic film plays like discrete snapshots of everyday life.  A story told largely in flashbacks sees the plain, unassuming Joey (Patrick Wang) and Cody (Trevor St. John) in a relationship for several years.  Cody's son Chip (Sebastian Banes) has become a son to Joey, who becomes even more of a dad to Chip after Cody passes away.

Some members of Cody's family have always had an awkwardness with Joey, and while it is not outwardly referenced (save for one line spoken by Cody's mother), race is a concern for them.  After Cody's unexpected departure relations between Joey and Cody's family are strained when Chip, whom Joey cares deeply for, is suddenly taken away.  Since Mr. Wang's film presents its scenes so simply and plainly the case for Joey cannot possibly be stronger.  Who else can be Chip's father?  The rhetorical question doesn't mean that Joey's road to seeking custody of Chip will be any less easy. 

"In The Family" resists the clichés that films involving same-sex dramas all-too easily resort to, but more importantly Mr. Wang's film isn't about same-sex relationships nor is it a "same-sex drama".  The events in "In The Family" apply to any couple or situation involving children and custody battles.  Understated, even profound at times, Mr. Wang's film lays out its case clearly, without appeals to sympathy or syrup.

There are some good performances from Brian Murray as Joey's lawyer, Peter Hermann as Dave, Cody's brother and Elaine Bromka as Joey's neighbor Gloria.  These actors and Mr. Wang cultivate an atmosphere of tension for a film that begins and ends at the right place.  On the surface Elwaldo Baptiste's editing feels underutilized but a closer look reveals strategic deliberation, as much a part of the story of Joey's situation as anything else.

Full of discipline and a steady hand, Mr. Wang's intimate, heartfelt drama of epic proportions is epic because it allows us to truly live and breathe with these characters by inhabiting their space in the world and immersing ourselves in their dilemmas, triumphs and disappointments.  Silences linger.  Long takes with a stationary camera lend feeling, authenticity and verisimilitude to real-life moments lived in real-time.  Much of the film feels like a home video shot on a clean surveillance camera, but not a beat of it is false or exploitive.  If it were not almost three hours long "In The Family" would actually feel less genuine and less committed to its unmistakable message.

Though same-sex marriage is now approved of by large swaths of the American public Mr. Wang doesn't allow us to get to know Joey or Cody until the third hour of the film, but throughout we know Joey's love for Chip (and Cody) is precious and sincere.  Mr. Wang wisely invests in an issues-first approach, not a status analysis or anatomy of Joey and Cody's relationship.  This general approach makes "In The Family" more absorbing and compelling.  Since the director doesn't hit you over the head with specifics about Joey and Cody any biases or predispositions one may bring to the film are mellowed or thawed out.  It is very easy to identify with Joey.  There's a natural law argument that Mr. Wang shrewdly uses -- that it merely makes sense, all the sense in the world -- for Joey to be able to visit and gain custody of the child he has taken care of and loved for several years.

I was riveted by this elementary and basic way of storytelling.  Sometimes on the big screen the best way to say something is to just say it, and "In The Family" does so in a highly persuasive way.  Mr. Wang's low-budget film, set in Tennessee and shot in New York City, is playing in several U.S. cities.  You'll need a magnifying glass to find the film, but the Google search for it will be well worth your while.

Also with: Susan Kellermann, Lisa Altomare, Eisa Davis, Juliette Angelo, Gina Tognoni.

"In The Family" is not rated by the Motion Picture Association Of America.  It contains thematic material, and a brief onscreen kiss between two men.  The film's running time is two hours and 49 minutes.  

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