A Family Affair Review
A Family Affair Review

Nicole Kidman, Joey King, and Zac Efron lead a decent romantic comedy that is better than the trailers make it seem.

Last Updated on July 2, 2024

PLOT: A surprising romance kicks off comic consequences for a young woman, her mother and her movie star boss as they face the complications of love, sex, and identity.

REVIEW: When the trailer for A Family Affair debuted, I immediately felt bad for the careers of everyone involved. Nicole Kidman slumming it in a romcom, Zac Efron following up the excellent The Iron Claw with superficial dreck, and Joey King marring her career upswing. Not to mention the Oscar credibility of Kathy Bates. But something happened when I watched the film. While it is far from great, A Family Affair is better than I expected. Because it develops characters and does not rely on tropes and cliches but instead uses the formula of the genre, A Family Affair is an example of what romantic comedies could be if given a little room to breathe. Plus, it helps to have actors capable of carrying the film on their shoulders, whereas a weaker cast would have wasted the opportunity to poke fun at Hollywood and age-gap couples.

Reuniting on-screen twelve years since they co-starred in Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy, Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron play movie star Chris Cole and writer Brooke Haywood. Chris is the lead in a series of Marvel-esque action movies and is a bit of a diva, which stresses his personal assistant, Zara (Joey King). When Zara quits, Chris goes to her house to convince her to return to work, and he meets Brooke, Zara’s mother. Sparks fly instantly, and Zara runs in on the couple having sex, which lands her in the emergency room and Brooke and Chris questioning their relationship. As the film progresses, Brooke and Chris realize they have legitimate feelings for one another, but Zara doubts that Chris will do anything other than hurt her mom. Rather than focusing on Zara trying to undermine the relationship, A Family Affair shows the three sides to this relationship and how perception is not always the same as reality.

A Family Affair plays on themes similar to the recent Anne Hathaway film The Idea of You, but here, the celebrity crush is portrayed more as a spoof of famous actors. At one point, Zac Efron’s Chris says, “Hey, I am not a celebrity. I am a movie star,” and sincerely means it. Joey King’s Zara, an aspiring producer who lurks in the shadow of her Pulitzer Prize-winning mother, initially comes across as the suffering victim of Chris Cole’s ridiculous rich person neediness. Still, as the film progresses, she becomes a villain who is so self-absorbed that she fails to see the damage she is doing to the two key people in her life. Worried that Chris is going to wine and dine Brooke and then dump her, A Family Affair tries very hard to transform our initial perception of Chris from good looks and not so intelligent into a layered person who is not as dumb as he initially seems. The trailers make Zac Efron seem like a dolt, but the character is more than that once you get past the first act of the film.

A Family Affair review

While Kidman, Efron, and King are the actors we see the most on screen, there are nice supporting roles for Liza Koshy as Zara’s best friend and Kathy Bates as Zara’s grandmother and Brooke’s mother-in-law. Bates has played many solid roles that rely on extravagant personality traits, such as in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, but seeing her more subdued and subtly good is refreshing. Bates has solid scenes with all three leads, but she and Koshy are relegated to glorified cameos. Efron and Kidman have believable chemistry, and their age gap is only mentioned once, with the story not focused on the media’s perception of Chris Cole’s new girlfriend. Most of the movie is spent in small settings without large crowds, allowing the character-centric focus to build more than you would see in a typical rom-com.

Scripted by newcomer Carrie Solomon and directed by Richard LaGravenese, A Family Affair avoids many of the pitfalls of romantic comedies by not turning the story into a sexual love triangle. Instead, the relationship dynamic between boss and employee, friend and coworker, and lover and lover blend into a realistic situation that breeds realistic comedy. The more pratfall humor the film focuses on, the less funny it becomes. The Hollywood insider humor of making movies and celebrity personal assistants may be less appealing to mass audiences, but I found the jokes to be the funniest in the film. The movie struggles to present the characters in one light at the start of the film and expects us to see them totally differently before they have earned their transformation. The story is too clean and neatly put together for any drama to truly resonate, which undermines some of the emotional investment this genre needs to succeed.

A Family Affair is much better than the trailers make it out to be due to the solid lead actors. Nicole Kidman, who has very few romantic comedies to her credit (the last being 2005’s Bewitched), never plays her character down as anything but a woman afraid to love again. Zac Efron does a nice job of spoofing himself without making it seem disingenuous, while Joey King almost makes Zara likable after a film of being a pain in the butt for everyone in the movie. A Family Affair, clocking in at close to two hours, is too long and uneven to be good, but it is way better than it has any right to be. Better than the typical Netflix original but only by a tiny margin, A Family Affair is a light streaming option this weekend if you want to enjoy a few laughs and some warm and fuzzies.


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