close
close

Nicole Kidman’s romantic comedy is all too well known

What it is about For Zara (Joey King), there is hardly anything worse than working as a personal assistant to film star Chris Cole (Zac Efron). The errands, the sudden demands, the fake emergencies: none of it promotes the 24-year-old’s career ambitions and all of it wears her down.

But then things get even worse for poor Zara: Chris and Zara’s mother Brooke (Nicole Kidman), a celebrated author, begin a romantic relationship.

The experienced Richard LaGravenese (“The Last Five Years”) directs “A Family Affair,” a romantic comedy on Netflix in which the always wonderful Kathy Bates plays Zara’s grandmother.

MY OPINION Every time A Family Affair seems to be heading in the right direction, a direction that is provocative, insightful and insightful, the film immediately backs out.

This story deserves more than the territory of a harmless sitcom, where all the laughs seem designed to hit certain points, where everyone is nice and well-meaning and a little misunderstood. It’s crying out to say something interesting about Hollywood and its values, and to complicate the usual trope in its story of a young heartthrob courting a woman decades older than him.

The conditions were there to get it right: Efron is a better actor than anyone might have thought long ago, King has real screen presence, and the film’s best moments overall are Kidman’s. She can bring meaning and impact to even the silliest material, suggesting a world of complications where there might not have been any otherwise. Throw Bates into the mix and you can never say the filmmakers screwed up in the casting.

But they’re working in a world that’s been aggressively flattened. There’s no visual style other than a generic collection of medium-close shots and little inclination to test boundaries. The romance develops exactly as expected, including a romantic night on a studio lot. Zara’s reaction to it seems determined less by reality than by the emotions the script requires at any given moment.

The same inconsistency characterizes the portrayal of Chris and his life as a movie star. The film finds something valuable in its portrayal of his deep and inherent loneliness; he has no real friends and can’t go anywhere alone, staying holed up in his fancy mansion. In one poignant moment, he admits to having no idea what a grocery store looks like.

Aside from his beauty and despite his crazy life, it’s clear why Brooke fell in love with him: he can be sweet and kind and seems to be a good listener.

But when he is asked to play the egoist in the film, to get Zara to quickly send him a pair of “break-up earrings” for another woman (before Brooke) in order to become the worst version of a disillusioned A-list celebrity, he is only too happy to comply with this request.

Overall, the result is a film that lacks the courage to go where it needs to go, instead settling for the safe and familiar territory of comfort food when something better and more substantial is within reach.

END EFFECT The actors do their best, but it’s a movie you’ve seen a million times.