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What happens when Dad dies?
Ambitious first film is a moving story of why we need marriage equality
Cleveland--There are some things that, taken individually, are quite normal-seeming. Even taking some items together, perhaps two out of three, seem just fine. But putting all three elements in the same pot just comes out a little bit weird.
Take this list, for instance: Gay. Asian. Southern.
Gay Southerners are easy enough to find, as are gay Asians. Asian Southerners might be a little incongruous, but there have been some really funny stand-up comedians who are Asian Southerners. And if you switch it to South Asians, that gives you well over a billion people, primarily in India and Pakistan.
A gay Asian Southerner, however, seems a far rarer creature indeed, although Patrick Wang’s film In the Family might change that, if only a bit.
Wang unsuccessfully shopped his movie around to 30 film festivals. But when he finally got a run in New York, the New York Times drooled over it, Filmmaker magazine swooned, and it got nominated for Best First Feature Independent Spirit Award.
Now it’s coming to Ohio for its Midwest debut at the Cleveland Institute of Arts Cinematheque on January 12 and 14, and then you can see what all the hubbub is about.
Wang wrote, directed and stars in the film, a moody family drama that illustrates the need for marriage equality or, at the very least, keeping one’s legal affairs in order.
Trevor St. John plays Cody Hines. He and Joey Williams (Wang) are raising Hines’ son Chip. Cody is a teacher and Joey is a contractor, fixing up people’s houses while his own teeters on the brink of collapse.
While Joey and Cody are very happy together, and Cody’s family seems very accepting of their relationship, Cody has not updated his will since right after he and Joey started seeing each other. So when Cody is killed in a car accident, everything--the house, Chip, the life they have built together--goes to Cody’s sister, in line with a will drafted when six-year-old Chip was a baby and his mother had just died.
At first it seems like everything will be fine, but after Thanksgiving, Cody’s family refuses to return Chip. Cody sees lawyer after lawyer, and they all tell him the same thing: Nobody can help him. Tennessee judges will not accept the concept of an “emotional parent” used in some other cases, and he has no recourse.
Joey has been working on Paul Hawks’ (Brian Murray) home; Hawks was an attorney before he retired to his lush collection of antiquarian books, some of which Joey has been rebinding. Hawks cannot abide giving up without a fight, and tells Joey that sometimes, the way to win a fight is to make certain that it is no longer against an opponent.
With Hawks on his side, Joey goes into one last battle to try to get Chip back. The question is, if he gives up everything else, can Joey get the one thing that matters?
In the Family is a noble and ambitious first film; Wang has created a moving narrative illustrating everything that can go wrong in a society where equality is not guaranteed.
There are faults, however, many of them likely a side-effect of the DIY creation of the film. There is no incidental music, which makes the film disconcertingly quiet, and it is not a short film by any stretch of the imagination, clocking in at just under three hours.
Wang goes for a lot of long takes; in fact, “long” should probably be spelled with extra ohs, like “looong.” Some critics view this as a positive, likening Wang’s work to that of Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu. Variety heaped praise upon it, calling it “a beautifully written and performed plea for understanding.”
It will be interesting to see what Wang accomplishes in the future. Given the reception this film has been receiving, In the Family is far from the last film he will make, and as his career progresses, so will his skills.
In the Family will play on Thursday, January 12 at 6:45 pm and Saturday, January 14 at 8:30 pm at the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque, 11141 East Blvd, Cleveland. For tickets or more information, call 216-4217450 or go to www.cia.edu/cinematheque.
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