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'A Family Affair' Review

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June 27, 2024
Hunter Friesen
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The warning signs for A Family Affair have been flashing for quite some time now: a hefty release date delay (originally set for November 17, 2023), the distribution rights held by the always hit-or-miss Netflix, and a glaring lack of promotional material. But there were also some positives, such as the presence of Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron in the lead roles - a reunification a decade in the making after Lee Daniels’ gonzo The Paperboy - and director Richard LaGravenese, the respected screenwriter of The Fisher King, A Little Princess, The Bridges of Madison County, and Behind the Candelabra. In the end, the cons outweigh the pros, but only enough to make this perfectly adequate and disposable, aka the Netflix special.

Those throwaway qualities come rushing in right away, with an introductory sizzle reel to Efron’s character, movie star sensation Chris Cole, being purely constructed out of stock red carpet coverage and photoshoots of Efron’s real-life media tours. The footage may be pulled from the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival premiere for The Greatest Beer Run Ever, but the in-movie canon is that it was for one of the films in Chris’ mega-successful and mega-brainless Icarus Rush franchise. “Die Hard meets Miracle on 34th Street, with a little bit of Speed” is how the producers are selling Cole on the next entry, complete with elf terrorists and reindeer being blown up in department stores.

First-time writer Carrie Solomon does at least create some narrative juice around Efron’s star persona, crafting Chris to mirror some of the actor’s history and public perception. The Icarus Rush franchise slightly mirrors the High School Musical films, with Chris stuck in a battle of choosing fame and fortune or branching out as an actor. There are also comments on Efron’s various jaw surgeries and injuries over the years. It’s all innocent enough that no one can claim slander, nor does it ever go so far as to make a compelling statement on the price of fame.

There is also a tiny bit of blurring between fact and fiction for Nicole Kidman’s character, Brooke, a fifty-something author who’s getting ready to put herself back out there after her husband passed away a decade ago. Chris and her take a romantic interest in each other, something that both scares and excites her. Similar to the Anne Hathaway-starring The Idea of You from earlier in the year, Solomon dives into the fallacy of women’s expiration dates and how two people navigate a cross-generational romance. Efron and Kidman have wonderful chemistry together, making their characters lovable throughout.

Did I mention that Brooke’s twenty-four-year-old daughter Zara (Joey King) is Chris’ unfairly treated personal assistant? Unlike The Idea of You, the public perception of Chris and Brooke’s romance is never touched on, with Zara being their only critic. It’s hard to identify with Zara’s point of view because she’s such an unlikeable character, with King not doing much to win us back over through her performance. Her side is inherently sympathetic, but the constant complaining and uninteresting professional subplot always make us want to get back to Efron and Kidman.

LaGravenese shoots everything with a Nancy Meyers glow, complete with immaculate houses and kitchens. It probably looks a lot more artificial on a television through a streaming service than it might in the theater. There’s also Siddhartha Khosla’s extremely intrusive score, a plucky sitcom-esque crutch used to transition between scenes and cover dead air, both of which become a lot more noticeable with the music.

It has become a cliché at this point to grade Netflix originals on a bit of a curve. The bar is lowered a bit by the fact that you can just turn it on or off anytime you want for “free.” A Family Affair still isn’t good enough to fully recommend, but I would be a lot more dismissive if it required going to the theater. That’s not exactly fair to all the other movies out there, but it’s the game Netflix is playing, and they’re doing a great job at it. Hooray?

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