de facto film reviews 2 stars

A Family Affair, directed by Richard LaGravenese, is a comedy with smiles and chuckles rather than laughs, but far more groans and cringes of embarrassment than any other response. Despite a fine cast, without a bad performance from the principles, the film fails to ignite. Part of the problem is how long the film takes to (not) establish things and another is how the film telegraphs every move it makes, because this is a film made up of cliches. By the time the credits roll, you will not have been surprised even once, though you might wonder how a film like this required nearly two hours of run time. There is a lot of filler, in a work aching for characters to be fleshed out.

Unfortunately, despite a charming and charismatic cast, the characters do not engage as fully as they ought to. Kathy Bates does her by-now-patented stern but loving and slightly mischievous old lady routine. Nicole Kidman is the coming out of her shell widow. Joey King is the bratty mid-20s daughter who is personal assistant to Zack Effron’s movie star, who may or may not have a soul and heart of gold, because, in a sense, this is a Hallmark movie. It even takes place at Christmas, has meet-cutes, something that needs saving, and dogs and fireplaces.

A Family Affair - IMDb

Courtesy Netflix

What works in the film are mainly the people onscreen. Not so much the characters, but the actors. Nobody in this will win any awards but they prove, each and every one, why they are both star and actor. Yes, even Effron, who, with King, gives the film’s best effort. He also has a character who turns out to be the most complex, after a fashion. The one refreshing thing is that the film does indeed address King’s character, Zara’s, selfishness. But it comes too late to resonate, because it has had little scaffolding. The characters all start out at eight and climb to ten or eleven in terms of complications.

The script is not bad as much as it is lacking all originality. Despite a few moments here and there-added, no doubt, by the director-the film seeks to hail writers, and while making a few good points-mostly fails to accomplish its goals. There is some minor wit and wisdom here, but it is nothing we have not seen before in countless films and books, always done far better. I did mention this is a Hallmark film, in all but name, did I not? So, why does it fail?

A Family Affair (2024) - Photos - IMDb Courtesy Netflix

Why, we ask ourselves, should we care? This viewer found themselves rooting for the couple just to spite the interfering daughter. It is a story of growth, but it does not earn that growth and it does not come naturally. There is far too much tell and not enough show, aside from montages that serve mainly to show off the scenery, including the bodies of its cast. The film has nobody outside the main four characters that truly matters or gets any real development. It is a very small world.

Lagravenese knows how to do films with characters you care about, yet the film is like an exercise in “what if” as in “what if we showed this cliché, but turned it around a little, and did this, instead, using that cliché to show this cliché” and a whole lot of classic film references, just because they can. Some of those references work,  and some do not. Part of why they work is to show that these characters really do love and know the business they are in, but we do not get to actually see them enjoying what they do. Again, we are told. The few times we do see, it is merely another “let us show a bad day on the set” moment. You will have a bad day on your couch, if you choose to watch this one.

A Family Affair is now streaming on Netflix