The cream always rises to the top. Case in point: Patrick Wang’s truly wondrous indie, which the multihyphenate writer-director-actor initially distributed himself after multiple festival rejections. It played for a week in Manhattan late last year and is now reopening after a rising tide of critical support. No doubt you’ve noticed the nearly three-hour runtime, but please don’t let that dissuade you: Every moment counts in this gripping tale of gay Tennessean contractor Joey Williams (Wang), who fights for custody of his nonbiological son, Chip (Sebastian Banes), after the boy’s father, and Joey’s partner, Cody (Trevor St. John), is killed in a car crash.
A précis such as that can’t help but come off as unbearably melodramatic. Yet Wang never does anything conventionally: Imagine a raw-nerved Cassavetes feature shot with rigorous Zen contemplativeness and you’ll have a sense of In the Family’s mesmeric style, which gives every single character their dignified due. In an early scene at a hospital, Joey is expectedly denied visitation rights with his spouse, but his reaction to the way he’s treated by the family and nursing staff plays out with the kind of nuance and complication that too many films eschew. Each slow-build sequence stuns in a similar way, from the sensitive flashbacks of Joey and Cody’s unexpected courtship to a lengthy deposition climax that finds the powerful emotional truths lingering within legalese minutiae. Wang has made a confidently intimate movie that is devastatingly larger-than-life.
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