With the recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down DOMA, it seemed fitting for The Spin’s Spotlight to turn to In the Family – a scrappy but subtle independent film that struggled to find a distributor, was rejected at many festivals, was ultimately released by the filmmaker himself into a smattering of art houses in New York last year where it quietly received some raves (from the late Ebert and the Times) and is now currently available through Netflix.
*SPOILERS AHEAD – this is as much a review of the film as it is a study of the film’s techniques and storytelling style*
Joey Williams (Patrick Wang) is a mild-mannered contractor from a small town in Tennessee. He lives with Cody (Trevor St John), a fine upstanding middle-school math teacher, and together they raise Cody’s six-year old biological son, Chip (Sebastian Banes), as their son. Their life couldn’t be more ordinary, more peaceful: Chip is obsessed with dragons and talks too much, Joey works long hours and always drinks a beer before bed and Cody passionately runs his classroom like clockwork. They hang out with friends and family, who range from wholeheartedly to awkwardly accepting of this happy little family unit. They talk. They laugh. All is well. But then Cody dies in a car crash, and Joey is suddenly thrust into a situation where he has no legal standing to keep his son and the only testament left behind is from just after Chip was born and before Cody got together with Joey where Cody left everything (the house, Chip) to his sister Eileen (Kelly McAndrew). Suddenly, in a fit of confusion and poor communication, the sister takes Chip, there’s a restraining order, and Joey’s world comes crashing in on him.
Sounds melodramatic, right? Sounds like the perfect story for a filmmaker to get on a soapbox, right? Sounds like someone’s going to take a stand…draw a clear line in the sand, right? WRONG. Great care is taken, and great restraint is shown. Continue reading