Laura Steinel’s directorial debut has its moments, but there just aren’t enough of them.
Existing in a parallel universe where violations of the employment law are exaggerated without consequence, Kate Stone (Taylor Schilling) is somehow a successful executive. She is a mid-level manager type in an undefined business with a vague purpose. On a daily basis, Kate insults and abuses those around her, as she ascends the corporate ladder. But this drive to steamroll over colleagues has taken its toll. Kate’s not even invited to office birthday celebrations.
One day, she gets a call from her brother (“Green Room’s” Eric Edelstein), begging her to look after his daughter while he and his wife (played by Allison Tolman) are away. Kate’s brother’s mother-in-law is being moved to hospice, he explains. And Kate doesn’t understand that that is a bad thing. Her level of insensitivity is epic.
Of course, Kate reluctantly takes the job, which involves dealing with a socially awkward 14-year-old girl named Maddie (Bryn Vale). Unknown to her parents, Maddie is more interested in karate than ballet. And when Kate picks her up from what should have been a ballet class, she finds Maddie practicing kicks under the instruction of Master Pete (Brian Tyree Henry). Pete’s a good soul, who relates to Maddie and is clearly a potential love interest for Kate.
The bland, ironically titled “Family” has a solid setup, but quickly loses its focus. The last third of the film is devoted to a romp through an Insane Clown Posse concert where the fans, who call themselves juggalos, are far more interesting and entertaining than Kate’s journey. Along the way, “Family” squanders talent, including Kate McKinnon as a nosey neighbor and Matt Walsh as a co-worker.
Steinel’s fast-moving script wants to combine the attitude of “Bad Santa” with a heart-warming, everything is going to be okay, ending. The final bit of sentimentality does not ring true and undercuts the edge that launched the movie. Steinel can’t settle on a tone, giving viewers a stale resolution that fails to strike a humorous or emotional chord.
“Orange is the New Black’s” Taylor Schilling is certainly up to the role, which is something akin to Charlize Theron’s character is Jason Reitman’s far better “Young Adult.” But as Kate, Schilling’s required to make huge personality shifts on-a-dime that aren’t credible. It’s as if writer/director Steinel doesn’t want to make a movie about a bad person who remains bad, but manages to do something right despite her personality foibles. Steinel should take a look at the work of director Alex Ross Perry (see “Her Smell” currently in theaters). There’s a market for telling stories about bad people, and Kate is as bad as they come.
To be fair, as a comedy, there are laughs here and there, and the entire juggalo subplot screamed out to be the focus of the entire film. But “Family” does not follow up on its potentially subversive, offbeat first third and loses its way.