In the Family
The film has a powerful message but it demands a great deal of patience from the audience from beginning to end.
In the Family is an indie first feature film from writer, director, and lead actor Patrick Wang. The film is about a man who must deal with the loss of his same-sex partner and the subsequent legal battles he must endure. The film carefully paces, sometimes too slowly, to show how powerful hope can be.
Set in a small conservative town in Tennessee a young six year old boy named Chip Hines (Sebastian Brodziak) is raised by his two fathers, his biological father Cody Hines (Trevor St. Johns) and his romantic partner Joey Williams (Patrick Wang). Because his biological mother passed away when he was born, Chip has always had two fathers. That is until one tragic day when Cody Hines gets into a fatal car crash.
There were plenty of long takes where no dialog is spoken, just the two of them now going through their everyday routine. A good example of this is a scene when Joey and Chip are getting back from the funeral and the two sit at the table together going through the large pile of mail. It was impressive how well the young child, Sebastian Brodziak, held up during these long scenes. There are some go on for more than 10 minutes.
After going through the mail Joey goes to Cody’s sister to help decipher what all the bills mean. It is then that he finds out that Cody made a will 6 years ago and did not include him in it. To make matters worse, all the possessions including their house and even Chip are now legally hers.
Joey becomes isolated from Cody’s side of the family but he has always experienced situations where he does not feel like he was part of the family. The first occurrence is when the doctors will not allow him to go see Cody in the hospital because he was not technically family. The second time is when his name did not appear in Cody’s will. Another is when Joey is not invited to the Hines’s Thanksgiving. Despite what the title of the film implies, he is not very welcome in the family.
Things take a turn for the worse when Joey goes to pick Chip up from the Hines’s Thanksgiving and Chip is not there. The family has decided to exercise its legal rights by taking Chip away from Joey. Needless to say, Joey is devastated when Chip is gone from his life so suddenly.
We learn more about Cody through multiple flashbacks to his past. We are shown how Cody and Joey first met and how he came up with naming Chip. But perhaps most interesting is that Joey knew Cody’s wife before she passed away.
It took me about an hour to really start getting into In the Family, it is fairly slow moving throughout its entirety but especially until then. Although many of the long scenes worked, some of them could have been condensed down during editing. The nearly three hour run-time was a bit much. But after reading the director’s statement I learned this was done intentionally, “The camera movement and cutting is minimal as I prefer to let the dynamics emerge from the characters and the events.”
In the Family has a powerful message but the film demands a great deal of patience from the audience from beginning to end. Even though it is a little rough around the edges it was an impressive first feature film by Patrick Wang. The film earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best First Feature. Even if you did not care for this film, you cannot help but wonder what Mr. Wang’s next project will be.