Starring Patrick Wang, Trevor St. John. Written and directed by Patrick Wang. 14A. 169 min. Opens June 1.
What do film festivals know? In the case of In the Family, the answer is, apparently, not much. Patrick Wang’s debut feature was reportedly turned down by 30 film festivals before quietly rolling out in theatres, but it’s so much better than the bulk of celebrated American indies that its creator should consider brandishing those rejections as a badge of honour.
Along with writing and directing the film, Wang plays Joey, a gay man who has helped to raised his partner Cody’s (Trevor St. John) son for six years; when Cody dies in a car accident, Joey’s legal status as the boy’s guardian is threatened by the shifting attitudes of his in-laws. Given the small-town Tennessee setting, it’s reasonable to expect that In the Family will develop as a treatise on inherited prejudice or a tract on adoptive rights, but Wang isn’t making a thesis film. Instead, he simply trains his focus on a group of recognizably flawed characters and hears them out.
While it’s possible that his own performance is too idealized—Joey is unfailingly patient, sensitive, and eloquent—he elicits such naturalistic work from the rest of the cast that it seems fair to call him an actor’s director right out of the gate. He’s also quite assertive behind the camera, letting key scenes play out in long, fixed takes. In the Family is modestly produced, but it earns its epic scale (it runs nearly three hours) and quite possibly announces the arrival of a real new talent—one who should hopefully have no trouble getting his next movie to screen at festivals.