It was not by design, but I saw a lot of female-directed features at this year’s SXSW Film Festival (by my last count, 8 of the 10 I watched were directed by women, and the other two were directed by John Krasinski and Steven Spielberg). I did not seek out Family because it was another female director but because it was this director specifically. Laura Steinel, who wrote and directed Family, was also a staff writer on Amazon’s terrific coming-of-age comedy Red Oaks. Throw in Taylor Schilling in the lead and a supporting role from Kate McKinnon (who plays a kooky neighbor), and I couldn’t resist.
It was time well spent. Like Red Oaks, Family is a sweet, though slight, comedy about two misfits who find one another and, with the aide of the Insane Clown Posse, form a “family.” Those misfits are Kate (Schilling) and her niece, Maddie (Bryn Vale). Kate is a career-driven workaholic who has a tendency to say everything she is thinking out loud. That behavior (hilariously) has alienated her from her officemates, who refuse even to invite her to company parties.
During a particularly hectic time at her job, her brother and sister-in-law (Alison Tolman) dump their daughter on Kate when they have to leave town and can’t find anyone else to care for Maddie. Maddie, too, suffers from social awkwardness: She’s an outcast in school; mean girls pick on her; and she refuses to engage in typical activities associated with a girl (she bails on ballet class and sneaks over into the karate class after Kate drops her off). She also refuses to wear a dress and prefer to eat chicken parm for dinner every night.
Expectedly, Kate’s lack of filter rubs off on Maddie, which gets her expelled from school for beating up a bullying classmate. The expulsion puts Kate in an even more difficult position in her job (and her sister in law), though Maddie’s influence also rubs off on Kate, who becomes both less obsequious at work and less likely to insult her co-workers.
The week all comes to a head when Maddie runs away to a Gathering of the Juggalos. It takes a crowd full of face-painted heathens to bring Kate and Maddie together. It sounds silly, and it is, but it works to amusing effect. The Juggalos, who reject society’s norms, nevertheless embrace each other as family, and that theme plays well into the film’s climax (and a sweet post-credits sequence in which real Juggalos are interviewed).
The film actually screened with a fair number of Juggalos in attendance, so many of the film’s biggest jokes were met with the Juggalo WOO WOO, which is less annoying than you might think (IN THIS CONTEXT). Aside from the drugs, the mayhem, and the stabbing themselves in the legs with knives, they really are sweet folks, and Steinel is smart to tie that subculture into what is essentially an endearing family comedy about two people who have been rejected by their peers.
‘Family’, as far as I know, has not yet been picked up for distribution, but it could find a nice home on Netflix or Amazon, or it could make a run at a few million dollars in specialty theaters. It screened at the 2018 SXSW Conference.