Jason Bateman made his unexpected debut at TIFF a few years ago with Bad Words, a snide comedy that grew into something warm and revealed that his desire to direct was more than just an empty career-extending gesture. Now he’s returned with a follow up that’s even better, retaining his keen sense for sarcastic dark comedy and deepening it with a resonate and strange story about healthy family dysfunction that manages to touch on familiar themes in original ways. Turns out this Bateman character might be a genuine filmmaker after all.
Bateman and Nicole Kidman star as a pair of troubled siblings damaged by their parents in a very unique way. You see mom and dad (Maryann Plunkett and Christopher Walken) were performance artists who used their children to stage elaborate pranks growing up. It worked, but obviously couldn’t last and while both kids found their way into the arts (Bateman as a writer, Kidman as an actress), they still never quite got over their youth and their parents could never equal their best work without their children. A potato gun accident to Bateman’s skull brings the whole fam back together and shortly after the reunion, the parents leave in for a trip and their car is found covered in blood and they’re presumed dead. Weird, for sure. Yet, given the art that Walken and Plunkett dedicated their lives to until that moment, their kids can’t really be sure they’re dead.
It’s a pretty brilliant concept for a film, based on an acclaimed novel by Kevin Wilson. Bateman shows off his comedic gifts as both a performer and director (especially during the flashback art stunts), but the real strength of the film is it’s subject. It’s about the necessary scarring all parents leave on their children and the value it may or may not have. It’s also about that strange moment when any child (or even adult) realizes that their parents are just fucked up struggling humans as well. Pretty clever stuff that Bateman handles well as a filmmaker and the entire cast eats up (especially Walken and Kidman, who deliver their best work in years). An odd dark comedy with rich emotional resonance that might stumble at times to contain all of its ambitious themes, yet ultimately remains a thoroughly enjoyable and meaningful effort.