TIFF report #7: The Family Fang, Victoria, Northern Soul

Today’s TIFF report checks out Jason Bateman’s dysfunctional family outing ‘The Family Fang,’ the technically dazzling one-take youth mischief flick ‘Victoria’ and a rote but loving look at a retro music subculture in 1970’s England in ‘Northern Soul.’


northern soul

Still from ‘Northern Soul’

Surprisingly, this year’s TIFF was not awash with toxic buzz aimed at a specific film like it was last year. No programmer hits it out of the park 100%, and TIFF’s predilection for glamourous stars and well-regarded directors means that it sometimes programs something based on potential prestige rather than actual quality. Last year, Tom McCarthy’s The Cobbler was greeted with the utmost derision by nearly everyone; while this year I’ve heard some people outright pan some things (I Saw The Light was not particularly popular), nothing is sticking out as the scapegoat… yet. (Even Atom Egoyan’s latest bad idea, Remember, is being greeted nonchalantly.)

TIFF might be nearly over for me (I’m headed back tonight), but there are still a few films left to premiere. Most ostensibly, Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall was stuck at the very end of the program. Only one press screening is scheduled right before the actual festival premiere, and all of it happens on Friday and Saturday when most press have already started on their way home. It’s not hard to see why: Emmerich has already been heavily criticized for supposedly whitewashing the very diverse story of the Stonewall riots, and it seems that TIFF wants to minimize the idea that the film will be inevitably massacred by the press at the festival. Stonewall comes out on the 25th of September, so there’s only so much damage control possible.

The Family Fang


I don’t really know what I expected from The Family Fang, Jason Bateman’s second directorial effort. I haven’t seen his first film, which didn’t help form an opinion, but I certainly didn’t expect the comedy world’s pre-eminent sarcastic Everyman to make a film as dark and thorny as The Family Fang. It’s only slightly a comedy, preferring instead to explore dysfunctional family dynamics in mopey browns and anxious greens.

Baxter and Annie Fang (Bateman and Nicole Kidman) grew up in a dysfunctional family unit, like most; their experience, however, is not one shared by many. Their parents (played by Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett in the present day and Jason Butler Harner and Kathryn Hahn in flashbacks) are controversial conceptual artists whose oeuvre consists mostly off pulling elaborate pranks implicating their children on unsuspecting strangers. The more pissed off the strangers are, the more transgressive the art. A chance encounter with a potato cannon leaves Baxter convalescing at his parents’ house; Annie shows up for support, prompting the parents to attempt to pull off their most ambitious piece yet.

There’s a refreshing lack of indie-movie dysfunctional clichés in the script by David Lindsay-Abaire (writer of Rabbit Hole, amongst others); the characters may be damaged but they don’t have the snarky affectations that often come with the territory. There’s a lot within The Family Fang that’s interesting on a philosophical and moral level, but unfortunately some of it is lost in Bateman’s direction. He still seems to be finding his footing in that world, and the film suffers from some baffling editing decisions, an overbearing score and some self-consciously tricksy camerawork that distracts from the core of the script. The four leads are terrific (it’s Walken’s best, least showy work in years), however, and The Family Fang proves to be a gutsy, thought-provoking but imperfect film that would probably have been tricky in almost anyone’s hands. Bateman might still feel a little green, but he certainly isn’t coasting.

The Family Fang has not yet been slated for a Montreal release.



The first name that pops up in the credits of Victoria is not that of its director, Sebastian Schipper, as is usually the case with films. The top-billed talent in the film is camera operator / director of photography Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, who pulls off the Herculean task of shooting this entire 138-minute heist film in one take. It’s more than impressive; it’s downright supernatural, and it’s impossible to sit through Victoria without marveling at the feats of technical prowess necessary to pull it off. Unfortunately, that’s about all that ultimately comes through.

Victoria (Laia Costa) is a young Spanish woman on a working holiday in Berlin. Heading home from the club one night, she befriends a loutish but charismatic young man named Sonne (Frederick Lau) who asks her to join him and his pals in a night of revelry. Victoria has to work the next day, but she’s taken with these boisterous young lads and decides to join them—until they’re called to do something ‘not very nice’ that requires Victoria’s help.

The decision to shoot the film in one take is a truly stupefying one; the film takes place more or less in real time, with the camera barreling through the streets and the packed nightclubs, settling in with the characters in tight quarters and hovering behind them as the night of debauchery turns into a nightmare scenario. Victoria is so visually impressive that it pretty much quashes everything else about the film; there’s not that much plot or characterization to spread over the film’s generous running time, and its central gimmick does little to actually service the plot. Victoria is technically dazzling and worth seeing almost exclusively in that respect, but it’s a bit like a camera operator’s jazz wankery session: a film made mostly for filmmakers.

Victoria is slated for a Montreal release on October 30th.

Northern Soul


In North American terms, the Northern Soul scene is somewhat baffling. There’s never been anything quite like it on this side of the pond and its often-contradictory notions can be somewhat perplexing. Northern Soul hit the apex of its popularity in the mid-70s, but it was entirely rooted in mid-60s American soul records with the uptempo, slickly-arranged sound of Motown. The more obscure the record, the more desirable it is for DJs and budding enthusiasts; for most Northern Soul fans, a record-hunting trip to the USA (where this type of music had fast fallen out of favour in place of disco and funk) was the ultimate fantasy. As I mentioned, there’s nothing quite like it on this side of the world, and Elaine Constantine’s Northern Soul provides an entertaining glimpse into that world.

It certainly won’t win many points for narrative originality: the story of a nerdy young man (Josh Whitehouse) from a working-class British town who befriends a cooler, hipper Northern Soul enthusiast (Elliott James Langridge) and sees his life changed forever, it pretty much hits every beat of the “scene biopic” dutifully. He has a moment of telling the normies to fuck off, they get into drugs, they get into girls, their allegiances are tested, tragedy strikes, etc. What it lacks in originality on that front it makes up for in true affection for the scene and an attention to period detail that makes Northern Soul fun even when it seems to be going through the motions. Oh, and the music is terrific, too.

Northern Soul is slated for release in Montreal on October 23rd.