Don’t look now, y’all, but the Insane Clown Posse has gone soft. The black-and-white-painted sheep of the Detroit music community have spent nearly three decades promoting their image as the industry leader in psychotic, drug-fueled, clown-themed murder rap-metal crews, and yet here they and their devoted Juggalo flock are — serving as the squishy, uplifting moral center of an otherwise fairly mild-mannered indie comedy. Taylor Schilling stars as Kate, a standard-issue romcom heroine: an icy hot blonde who is hyper-competent at work but a shambling disaster in her personal life. She’s a dedicated careerist, laser-focused on her high-powered financial industry gig and oblivious to her general bitchiness. She has all the traits of a modern-day Lady Scrooge: She’s mean to her loyal assistant, she drinks like a sailor, she sneers at well-intentioned coworkers’ invites to chain restaurants, and, at a baby shower, she tells the expectant mother that she’s fat and that motherhood will ruin her career path. The horror.
Since the angry movie gods decree that successful single women in pantsuits must always be humbled, Kate gets roped into babysitting her 11-year-old niece, Maddie (Bryn Vale, making her feature debut) while her parents deal with an emergency out of town. Kate of course has zero idea how to relate to adults, let alone a kid, and this kid is a bit of an oddball.
Young Maddie prefers karate class to ballet, practicing magic tricks, and eating nothing but chicken parmesan for dinner. The popular normie girls at school regularly bully her, and her only friend is the village idiot gas station clerk named Dennis, who prefers to be called “Baby Joker,” and is, in ICP parlance, “Down with the Clowns.” Seeing Juggaloism as a gateway to drugs, neck tats, and a GED, Kate begins worrying that she’s failed as a pseudo-parent, all while these domestic distractions are putting her job in jeopardy.
For the most part, Family amiably rumbles toward a big conclusion at the annual “Gathering of the Juggalos” festival (re-created here in a field in Atlanta), but never builds much comedic momentum and has little of the raunchy content you would expect with the ICP brand. Indifferently directed by Laura Steinel, Family is too timid with its subject matter, encouraging viewers to let their freak flags fly and embrace their inner weirdo, without any sense of real-world consequences of bad behavior or any edge. But it really means well, so I guess there’s no use crying over spilled Faygo.
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