With its mix of comedy and drama, You Can Choose Your Family delivers the goods in filmmaker Miranda Bailey’s narrative feature directorial debut.
Frank Hansen (Jim Gaffigan) is a awful human. He’s perhaps the worst human of the world even if he isn’t willing to admit it. Frank’s problem is that he has two sets of everything but nothing is more secretive than his having two families. All his trips for work have been nothing more than mere cover to hide his having another wife and set of children. That Frank has been able to get away with it for over 15 years is rather impressive to say the least.
In the blink of an eye, it’s over for Frank when his son, Philip (Logan Miller), catches him in the act of lying like the wind. Philip doesn’t cave into his dad’s pressure. Instead, he does the only thing he can do in order to fulfill his dreams of being accepted into NYU: blackmail his dad or spill the beans to his stay-at-home mom, Laura (Anna Gunn). The cookie soon starts to crumble as Frank realizes that the only way it ends will be in a full-body cast.
Because of his relationship to Frank, Philip has to be careful around Frank’s other wife, Bonnie (Samantha Mathis), as well as his step-siblings, Kelly (Isabelle Phillips) and Eddie (Gage Polchlopek).
Glen Lakin’s screenplay has a great premise in wanting to know just how far would a person be willing to go to hide their second family. It’s a story that works so well in the hands of director Miranda Bailey. It’s a fun script and there are moments in which the audience knows more than the characters, which leads to the possibility of cringe-comedy. Lakin gives the story closure so the comedy does not get the typical Hollywood ending in which one doesn’t know what’s happening with the characters.)
With the film set during the 1990s, it paves the way for both original music and songs from the decade. Because of the year the film takes places, one of the minor subplots regarding a supporting character does come off more or less as a surprise. It’s nothing bad but it’s a big thing because it’s even more important when one considers that the film is set way back in 1992 when this sort of thing wasn’t as accepted as it is in 2018. Without naming names, it’s a big move for representation on screen.
Gaffigan couldn’t be more different from Frank. The comedian brings so much to his portrayal of a role that couldn’t be further from who the comedian is in real life. It’s because of this that it makes his performance as an awful person even better. I’d love to see Gaffigan and Logan Miller in another project together just from seeing how the two are able to play off of each other in You Can Choose Your Family.
On the breakthrough performance front, Isabelle Phillips breaks through in her role as Frank’s daughter, Kelly. This was the first feature film for the actress. There’s a lot to like about her performance and there’s great chemistry on screen between her and Logan.
Because of what each character is going through, You Can Choose Your Family is the type of comedy that will make one feel both sympathy and empathy at the same time.
DIRECTOR Miranda Bailey
SCREENWRITER: Glen Lakin
CAST: Jim Gaffigan, Logan Miller, Anna Gunn, Samantha Mathis, Alex Karpovsky, Hayes MacArthur, Michelle Hurd
An official selection of the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, You Can Choose Your Family premiered as part of the Narrative Spotlight program.