Credit: Tina Rowden/Netflix
by Ayeen Forootan Featured Film Streaming Scene

A Family Affair — Richard LaGravenese

July 1, 2024

Richard LaGravenese’s (P.S. I Love You) new Netflix rom-com A Family Affair — which offers viewers an easy-sell reunion for A-listers Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron, 12 years after their last (and categorically different) on-screen collaboration in campfest The Paperboy — quite clearly intends to offer something of a throwback nostalgia jolt for its millennial viewers and is mainly targeted for a certain sect of middle-aged audiences who crave fervent love stories about aging, put-together women hooking up with young, untamed heartthrobs (look no further than Michael Showalter’s recent The Idea of You). The film opens with Zara (Joey King), an aspiring, sedulous 24-year-old Tinseltowner who works as the personal assistant to the self-absorbed, egotistical movie star Chris Cole (Efron) and has ambitions of becoming a big-time film producer. After Zara quits her job due to no sign of hope for a promotion and because Chris’ unreasonably petty demands become so gradually irritating, the lonely celebrity — who Zara suggests lives “a double life as a superhero and an asshole” — arrives at her palatial estate equipped with an apology only to meet Zara’s single mother Brooke (Kidman), a successful and widowed award-winning author who, not long after sharing a few shots of tequila with the Hollywood himbo, ends up having sex with him in her bedroom. Of course, it’s right about that time when Zara steps into the house and catches her beloved mom and arrogant boss together.

But despite A Family Affair‘s obvious marketing strategy, which makes sure to center the May-September romance between Kidman’s Brooke and Efron’s Chris, the film is rather indecisively torn between at least two different narratives and modes of expression, which in effect makes its comedy-driven parts — replete with plenty of genuinely hilarious one-liners, witty metafilmic gags, and delightfully brisk deliveries — find much firmer footing than its romantic and “dramatic” elements (the latter of which are stuffed with predictable syrupy sweet heart-to-hearts, half-baked sentimentalism, and occasional mother-daughter quarrels). Just how Zara constantly oscillates throughout the film as both its protagonist and a minor catalyst to romantic turmoil, A Family Affair imbalances its escapist delights and affably harmless sweetness with an underwhelming depiction of adult liaison and faint discourse on age-gap relationships and professional dissatisfaction, this while it would have been better served to stick to its more successful satire of modern-day showbiz mechanisms. It’s because of these valleys in the movie’s one half that King’s waggish presence reflects the movie at its best, where Kidman and Efron’s chemistry never rises above a lukewarm register.

It’s predictable, then, that in the absence of a more absorbing romance, one that possesses either steam or substantive conflict, A Family Affair skews toward the too typical solution that many modern rom-com flicks of this ilk opt for: to lean heavily on the mesmerizing but empty eye-candy visuals of alluringly chic production design and expensive costuming that realize the entire project within the aesthetic and bougie atmosphere of, say, an intersection of Architectural Digest and Vogue. From its beautifully decorated modern mansions replete with neatly arranged kitchens and well-dressed tables to a first date at a luxurious hotel, a dreamy beach-side stroll set to the Californian sunset, LaGravenese’s A Family Affair knows how to fill all the blank space between its good-looking actors with such pretty contrivances. And funnily enough given the film’s failure to bring genuine heat Chris and Brooke’s romance, LaGravenese pivots to a Christmas-themed context in the middle of its final act, displacing the sunny L.A. style for the holiday’s festive colors, knitted sweaters, and cozy interior decorating (yes, there’s a fireplace). It seems that the homogeneity of generic, streaming rom-coms has reached a point that, even when released in summer and set in the Hollywood hills, no one can come up with anything more creative than standard-issue Hallmark and Lifetime tropes. Still, and to put it simply, regardless of its limits of imagination, failure to construct a three-dimensional romance, and eye-roll shenanigans, A Family Affair is precisely the kind of breezy weeknight watch that viewers may yet enjoy for what it is with a glass of rosé or a crisp white in hand. Those not inclined to such trifles might need three.

DIRECTOR: Richard LaGravenese;  CAST: Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, Joey King, Kathy Bates;  DISTRIBUTOR: Netflix;  STREAMING: June 28;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 51 min.