There’s a touch of irony behind the generic title “Family,” but not enough to make up for the cookie-cutter plotting of this scattershot comedy.
The story is a familiar one: Overstressed corporate executive is suddenly drawn into a relative’s domestic life, and — after many failures as a surrogate parent — learns valuable lessons about the work-life balance thing. The twist is that the executive this time is a woman: Kate, played by Taylor Schilling (“Orange Is the New Black”), whose abrasive honesty makes her the most hated person in her office.
The office scenes are so generic that when Kate is preparing a pitch for the Parsons account, or whatever, it’s never specified whether this company does accounting, advertising or sells cleaning products. And, in the script by rookie writer-director Laura Steinel, it doesn’t much matter anyway.
Kate gets a call from her estranged brother Joe (Eric Edelstein), who needs help with a family matter. Joe and his wife, Cheryl (Allison Tolman), have to go move Cheryl’s dying mother to a hospice, and they need someone to watch their 11-year-old daughter Maddie (Bryn Vale) overnight. Kate, woefully unprepared as an aunt, reluctantly agrees.
Splitting her time between her New York job and the New Jersey suburbs, Kate becomes more frazzled than usual. At first, it’s small things, like her alpha housewife neighbor Jill (Kate McKinnon, unbilled and inadequately deployed) nagging her.
Soon Kate finds Maddie is an eccentric girl. She skips on the ballet classes her mom sends her to, and instead hangs out next door at a karate studio, run by Sensei Pete (Bryan Tyree Henry). Maddie also hangs out with Dennis, aka Baby Joker (Fabrizio Zacharee Guido), a teen mini-mart employee who teaches Maddie the joys of being a juggalo, a fan of the hip-hop group Insane Clown Posse, who call their following a “family.” (Since the movie begins with Kate in clown makeup in a “you may wonder how I ended up like this” foreshadowing scene, the juggalo connection is clear from the first moments.)
With sharp comic performers like Tolman, Edelstein and Henry, there are laughs to be had, and Schilling’s “Orange Is the New Black” co-star Natasha Lyonne steals the show in a cameo as a Juggalette. And Schilling can deliver a one-liner better than most, and Steinel gives her plenty of sharp wisecracks.
The problem with “Family” is that Steinel’s premise is too cliche, and she chickens out on the acid humor as she writes up a safe happy ending.
Opened April 19 in select cities; opens Friday, April 26, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake City). Rated R for language, some sexual content and drug use. Running time: 86 minutes.