'Family' film review: Schilling anchors this heartfelt, hilarious comedy
Hilarious and heartwarming, "Family" (opening in additional cities April 26) is a charmer of a character study centered on self-acceptance -- not something one would expect from a film that culminates at the Gathering of the Juggalos.
In short: Straightforward and career focused Kate (Taylor Schilling) takes in her niece Maddie (Bryn Vale) - they get sucked into the juggalo life. Also stars Kate McKinnon, Brian Tyree Henry and Matt Walsh.
With such a basic plot - an aloof aunt takes in her niece for a few days - writer-director Laura Steinel puts the weight of the story on its hilarious script and a sharp performance from Schilling. The "Orange Is the New Black" star plays Erin with brusque, reckless abandon. She thoughtlessly fires off blunt, biting barbs without hesitation or a second thought. Erin stomps on social norms, blurting out whatever's on her mind, without her words passing through any sort of filter. She's fun because Kate somewhat selfishly just says what people think but never say - and there's fun in living vicariously through her.
The joy of "Family" is watching Kate, who is thoroughly unqualified to mentor anyone, get thrown into the deep end of parenting as she's suddenly responsible for her awkward teenage niece. While Kate wrests control of her professional life with her brutal bluntness, she's at a complete loss at how to deal with girl more comfortable in a karate gi than a ballet dress. She's completely out of her element - which is especially hilarious because even when she's in her comfort zone, Kate is just out-of-sync with everyone around her.
While it's fun to watch Kate unabashedly stick her foot in her mouth, "Family" doesn't just revel in her tactlessness - it also reveals the cost of her personality. She is unintentionally hilarious - but it comes at the expense of the relationships around her. For as entertaining as Kate is to the audience, her thoughtless, reactionary barbs have isolated her entirely. Her co-workers aren't fond of her and she barely knows what's going on with her own family.
And here again Schilling excels - she wears how put off Kate is, yet her performance has a tinge of self-loathing and slight regret. Although she fires off her mouth without a thought, Schilling injects a necessary undercurrent of remorse. She just says whatever because she doesn't care - and yet, she cares (if only a little).
Steinel's script is sharp, reserved and heartwarming. Some of the film's funniest moments aren't loud punchlines - they're quiet, easy-to-miss bits of indirect character-based comedy. The biggest laughs come from almost muted humor.
Final verdict: "Family" is a subtly laugh out loud comedy, anchored by a stellar comedic turn by Schilling and a warm screenplay.
"Family" opens in additional cities April 26. The comedy has a runtime of 85 minutes and is rated R for language, some sexual content and drug use.