TV review: A Family Affair ‘A silly film that offers excellent escapism’


A Family Affair. (L-R) Nicole Kidman as Brooke Harwood, Joey King as Zara Ford and Zac Efron as Chris Cole in A Family Affair. Cr. Tina Rowden/Netflix © 2024

A Family Affair

Netflix  | ★★★✩✩

Reviewed by Keren David

There was a moment watching Netflix’s new rom-com A Family Affair when I wondered if it was really the right choice for the JC. Early on, young Zara, assistant to a famous actor is doing his shopping for him, when she asks him: “Do you eat ham, Chris?” – possibly the least JC-friendly line in the history of rom-coms. Naturally, there’s a family Christmas with a massive tree, meaningful presents and much extra syrup.

Never mind. Chris may be called Chris, and he may eat ham, as well as hamming it up as an actor, but he is played by Zac Efron, one of the more decorative Jewish Hollywood stars ever, even amid rumours of plastic surgery, which has set social media a-twitter. And Zara is played by up-and-coming star Joey King, also Jewish and last seen in the Holocaust drama We Were the Lucky Ones. The writer of A Family Affair is Carrie Solomon who sounds potentially Jewish, although I can’t actually pin down any proof of this.

Those are all the excuses I needed to put my feet up and enjoy a very silly film that offers excellent escapism in troubled times. (“What’s this rubbish?” my husband demanded unromantically, as I made notes about Efron’s muscled torso. “It’s work!” I protested, but that may not have convinced him.) In ye olden days, Zara, 24, and thirtysomething Chris would have been set for a workplace romance, despite his whiny neediness. But in the #MeToo era, Chris falls for Zara’s writer mother Brooke, played by Nicole Kidman, who is supposedly 16 years older than him. (“I’m Australian,” she says; “Oh, do you know Margot Robbie?” he asks). Dazzled by his blue eyes and aforementioned muscles, and having partaken of much tequila, she takes him to bed and rips his clothes off, much to her daughter’s horror when she discovers them a few minutes later, as you inevitably do in this kind of film.

And so it continues, much as you’d expect. The film has a lot of fun at Efron’s expense – “Your agents and managers put you in garbage, just to make money from you,” Zara tells him, while Kidman replies to a compliment on her dress with a deadpan: “Well, it’s been in the closet for years.” His character is underwritten, in the way that pretty women’s roles have been for years, but he manages the shift from whiny to desirable with the ease that comes when a skilled actor plays a not very good one.

Similarly Kidman just about manages to make us believe that an intelligent woman could find hidden depths in this man-child. You just need to forget about the 2012 film The Paperboy, which sizzled with warped sexual attraction between two more interesting characters played by the same actors. That was noir, this is marshmallow pink.

The real heart of this easy viewer is in the relationships between women. There are Kidman and her mother-in-law/editor Leila (the relationship is explained in a chewy bit of dialogue that could serve as a ‘how not to do exposition’ in a screenwriting course). Played by Kathy Bates, Leila is warm and wise, and the bond between the two women is rather more believable than the chemistry between Brooke and Chris. 

Then there’s Zara, who starts the film as a genuinely annoying Gen Z brat, full of entitlement. “He’s such a diva!” she complains about her boss, to which her grandmother replies: “Yes darling, so are you.” Cheers from the sofa! Happily the film challenges her self-centred viewpoint, and makes her see beyond the end of her nose, and she evolves sufficiently to engineer a grocery-store reconciliation for her mother and her boss, which is so low-key one wonders whether Netflix ran out of money and had to finish the film on the cheap. In short, if you’re looking for a fun way of spending an afternoon that won’t worry any of your brain cells, A Family Affair is just about perfect.

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