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The Whole is Not Greater in Generic New Taylor Schilling Vehicle 'Family'



Taylor Schilling, star of the Netflix comedy Orange is the New Black, delivers a sharp performance in the new comedy Family, out Friday at the Cedar Lee. But the film is so predictable and generic in its broad strokes that the viewing itself feels like going through the motions.

Schilling is Kate Stone, a New Jersey hedge fund VP despised by her colleagues for the cruelty and dismissiveness with which she treats her staff. Her character is meant to illustrate the personal perils of focusing on one's career at the expense of all other relationships. But rookie director Laura Steinel, who also wrote the script, takes the character too far. Kate is radically honest and purports to say what everyone else is thinking, but does so at inopportune moments, a recurring gag that's sullied by its repetition. When she is summoned to her brother's house in the suburbs and more or less commanded to watch her niece, Maddie, for the week due to a family emergency, she forgets Maddie's name. Twice. Maddie is in middle school.

Kate's week with Maddie comprises the film's plot. The effects that each has on the other comprise its message, which is of the gooey "acceptance and tolerance" variety — something like "understanding the misunderstood." (Again, this from the perspective of the New Jersey suburbs.) Maddie is an odd duck who doesn't fit in — "Sometimes I don't even feel like a girl," she confides in Kate in one scene. "I feel like a monster." And Kate, who is first disgusted by her niece and her obsession with snacks and swords, softens to her. There are real moments of sweetness between the two.

Maddie accidentally falls in with some local Jugalos, fans of the rap-rock outfit Insane Clown Posse. The script is aware that Jugalos are largely disparaged as subhuman druggies hell-bent on seeing "titties." And even while the film may be interested in humanizing them — even them! — it's not above making jokes at their expense. "I'm sorry for your loss," a convenience store owner says, when he learns that Maddie has gone to the Gathering of the Jugalos.

The film features some decent supporting performances, including Veep's Matt Walsh, playing his usual beaten-down middle-aged man, and SNL's Kate McKinnon, overdoing it as a suburban mom. Brian Tyree Henry appears from time to time as a karate instructor who weirdly gets roped into the film's climactic pursuit. But the best supporting role may be "Baby Joker" (Fabrizio Zacharee Guido), a teenage Jugalo whom Maddie meets at a gas station. Baby Joker is the Jugalo movement's lighter side, a tender-hearted outcast with a preposterous haircut and speech pattern who is nonetheless as welcoming of the weirdos as Christ himself.

At 85 minutes, Family is a small-scale production that has the vibe of something shot over the course of a few days. Schilling really is strong, taking an over-the-top character and making her struggles relatable, but there's very little reason to see this one at the theater — on the weekend of Infinity War: Endgame, no less. Get a few laughs with it when it comes to streaming services in a few months.

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