A fairly low-key film from writer-director Luc Besson (who worked on the script with Michael Caleo, adapting the source material by Tonino Benacquista), The Family works surprisingly well, especially when you think of some of the other choices Robert De Niro has made in the field of comedy, and even more so when you think of those roles he has taken that spoof his own image. The bonus here is that things aren't played for laughs, it's just funny to see these people so quickly resort to the only way they know how to deal with things, despite having to lay low and not bring any attention to themselves.
De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer are the parents, and Dianna Agron and John D'Leo are their teenage children. They've just moved into a new home in France, a move that we find out is yet another in a long succession of attempts to successfully relocate them. The man overseeing their new life is Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), exasperated by the fact that these people can't seem to appreciate what has been done for them in ongoing attempts to stop them from being killed. After an initial day of getting used to things, everyone soon starts to make the new situation work to their benefit, which isn't necessarily the best way to blend in and keep a low profile.
What The Family does so well is to take a little bit of time to see the main characters start to put their plans in place. There's always the threat of anger and violence, from the very beginning, but the comedy comes from seeing these people forced into biding their time, until they know they have all of the pieces in place to make whatever move they have had in mind since the start. There's also a plot strand about certain dangerous types finding out where their enemies are now living, of course, and things lead to a predictable finale, but the fun here is in the journey.
Besson and Caleo have put together a decent script, taking the time to show the main strength and weakness of each member of the family, which helps the pacing and really draws you in as it all heads towards a perilous third act. There are also plenty of nods, with Pfeiffer and De Niro respectfully drawing on some of their most famous roles, and one sequence concerning a local film screening is a brilliant meta highlight.
The cast are fantastic, across the board. Because nobody plays it for laughs, the material plays to their strengths. As well as the big names in the lead roles, who don't just give great performances but also work brilliantly alongside one another, both Agron and D'Leo are superb and believable as the teens who have their own ways of dealing with the standard pitfalls of high school life. Jones may only be in a handful of scenes, but he's as good as ever in a role that suits that air of blatant exasperation he can do better than so many others.
Okay, there's no film made on this subject yet that has topped My Blue Heaven (yeah, don't believe me, just go and rewatch it), but this is a pleasant surprise that I haven't heard too many other people recommend over the past few years. So I am recommending it now.
You can buy the disc here.
Americans can buy it here.