IN THE FAMILY written and directed by Patrick Wang, with Wang, Sebastian Brodziak, Kelly McAndrew and Trevor St. John. A Vagrant Films release. 169 minutes. Opens Friday (June 1). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNNN
Patrick Wang's In The Family is one of the best American debuts in years, a simple observational drama about a nice guy named Joey trying to secure custody of his late partner's son in Tennessee, where the courts aren't exactly packed with same-sex civil suits.
Writer/director Wang anchors the picture as Joey, a placid contractor whose grief over the accidental death of his beloved Cody (Trevor St. John) is complicated by the news that Cody's only will - written before he and Joey became a couple - names his sister the guardian of six-year-old Chip (Sebastian Brodziak).
Stretching out over nearly three hours, the film tracks Joey's ordeal as he tries to get Chip back and rebuild his own life, often in the same breath. The movie aches with understated feeling and empathy, allowing even the antagonistic characters a measure of complexity and humanity. Wang isn't making a movie about gays and straights; he's making a movie about people. And it's terrific.