A Family Affair Review | Low Stakes Rom-Com with Big Gains

by Andrew Parker

A Family Affair is a romantic comedy that doesn’t aim very high but manages to barely exceed expectations through sheer charm and wit. It’s predictable in the extreme, which can make things drag out to feel longer than they actually are, but A Family Affair is packed with enough zingers, interesting characters, and chemistry between its stars to carry the day. It’s the kind of movie best watched at home on a rainy night with sweatpants on and a bowl of snacks by one’s side. It’s not challenging, but it’s certainly entertaining.

Zara Harwood (Joey King) is the long suffering personal assistant to A-list actor and generally maladjusted pain-in-the-ass Chris Cole (Zac Efron), who has shot to stardom on the back of a mega-successful superhero franchise, but has done little else of note. In typical needy celebrity fashion, Chris makes Zara carry out a variety of tasks that range from everyday chores he’s too lazy to do or insanely specific asks that often require the moving of heaven and Earth. After Chris has strung Zara along for too long without fulfilling the promise of promoting her within his company, Zara understandably quits in a huff. Chris tries to come crawling back into her good graces by going to Zara’s home, but instead has a chance encounter with Brooke (Nicole Kidman), her widowed mother. Brooke, an award winning writer and journalist, has heard the horror stories about Chris behaviour, but they somehow manage to hit it off immediately and begin to become romantically involved, a development that Zara is understandably upset about.

Director Richard LaGravenese (The Last Five Years, Beautiful Creatures) has written a few scripts pitched at this same level earlier in his career, so it’s clear what he sees in writer Carrie Solomon’s snappy material. It’s basically the same kind of story about someone falling for an emotionally unavailable megastar that was used in the likes of Notting Hill and this year’s The Idea of You, so the concept is solid if unoriginal. It just has to be set in some pretty locations with good looking actors being entertaining. And while it sometimes feels like the romance is taking a back seat to the funnier stuff, A Family Affair allows Efron and King to stretch their formidable comedic muscles, while Kidman adds a bit of empathy and grace as the not-so-elder stateswoman.

Efron and Kidman have an established chemistry (albeit one far different from what they shared in the tawdry melodrama The Paperboy awhile back), but it’s the actor’s lived-in and complex relationship with King’s fraying assistant that gives the romance any sort of stakes. It’s a shame that Kidman has little to do except play things fairly straight, and the same can be said for Kathy Bates, who’s great here but stuck playing the wisened, sage advice spouting mother-in-law. A Family Affair is really Efron and King’s show, and the scenes they share together are frequently hilarious, and sometimes rather sweet and good natured whenever Chris’ ego doesn’t get in the way. Efron can play the oblivious pretty boy with a heart of gold in his sleep, and his ability to deliver a self-owning one liner is almost unparalleled. For her part, King plays up her character’s personal anxieties to the hilt, but she’s also the one character most worth rooting for her, even if some of her tactics to break up her mom and her boss are self-serving.

I’ll be the first to admit that A Family Affair isn’t much, but I also can’t deny that I was entertained from start to finish. While watching it, I felt completely relaxed and like I was in the hands of some capable pros putting on a lighthearted show. After watching so many of these kinds of movies, it’s easy to spot the bad ones because they aren’t funny and there’s no reason to care about what’s happening. A Family Affair is very funny, and I cared a surprising amount, even when I knew full well how everything was going to play out in advance. A Family Affair had a low bar to clear, but it did so confidently.

A Family Affair streams on Netflix starting Friday, June 28, 2024.

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