A Family Affair: Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron are sweet but the movie is only just OK

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
A Family Affair is streaming on Netflix.
A Family Affair is streaming on Netflix. Credit: Tina Rowden/Netflix/Tina Rowden/Netflix

You want to have an open mind about a new movie or TV series but anyone who says they go into everything with zero expectations is lying — or wilfully ignorant of their own lens.

There are some combinations you never have great hope for. The sixth instalment of any action franchise, especially if it stars The Rock or Jason Statham (or both). A Christmas romance involving a ski cabin and mistaken identities. And anything made by toxic bros’ favourite filmmaker, Zack Snyder.

Sometimes, you’re surprised, like with Snyder’s zombie extravaganza Army of the Dead. Actually fun! Sometimes, you’re not, like with Snyder’s Seven Samurai/Star Wars rip-off Rebel Moon. Like getting your teeth drilled.

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A Netflix kind-of-rom-com with Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron? Well, if it’s middling, that will be pretty much on par. It’s not a disappointment as such, because you never thought it would be Parasite or Vertigo or When Harry Met Sally.

You just want it to be mildly diverting and to stare at hot people for 90 minutes without hating yourself.

A Family Affair is streaming on Netflix.
A Family Affair stars Nicole Kidman, Joey King and Zac Efron. Credit: Tina Rowden/Netflix/Tina Rowden/Netflix

A Family Affair largely ticks those boxes — except it is, as almost two hours, far too long. You really feel in the final act, where the film loses momentum and limps to the finish line.

The main character is Zara (Joey King), a 24-year-old personal assistant to famous actor Chris Cole (Efron). Chris is a demanding, unreasonable diva whose ego (“Celebrity? That is derogatory, I’m not a celebrity, I’m a movie star”) is as big as his self-esteem issues.

A big head coupled with a crippling lack of self-worth? The worst combination for the downtrodden Zara, his lackey for every kind of menial and humiliating task.

Zara is hanging on in the hope Chris will fulfil his promise to make her a producer in his company. Her ambitions are no small part influenced by her inferiority complex when measured against her mother Brooke (Kidman), a Pulitzer-winning writer who still has complex feelings about her late husband, who died 11 years ago.

When Chris and Brooke unexpectedly indulge in a bit of daytime drinking, something sparks between them. It may be his impeccable quads that he makes her feel (“They’re real”) or it may be the liquor.

A Family Affair is streaming on Netflix.
A Family Affair is what it is, and it’s exactly what you expect. Credit: Tina Rowden/Netflix/Tina Rowden/Netflix

The May to December romance between Brooke and Chris is less of an issue than the fact Chris is Zara’s boss, and Zara knows all about his moves with women. She doesn’t want to see her mother be another in a long line to receive his customary break-up diamond earrings.

Kidman and Efron have been down this road before, having previously portrayed onscreen lovers in the 2012 film The Paperboy. And, honestly, an older woman with a younger, consenting-age man is not that shocking in 2024 – if anyone finds it icy, it says a lot more about them than the coupling.

So, then it really is down to the chemistry. And that, Kidman and Efron have. They’re sweet, sometimes bawdy and believable.

There’s just not that much meat to A Family Affair’s bones. A strong start with a decent smattering of jokes gives way to director Richard LaGravenese’s penchant for sentimentality (he made P.S. I Love You, and if you know, you know). A Family Affair has its share of hammy scenes but at least they’re balanced by Kidman’s mostly grounded performance.

The movie is what it is. It’s not going to blow your mind, change your perspective on life or inspire you to rewatch it. But in the moment? It’s fine.

Rating: 2.5/5

A Family Affair is streaming on Netflix

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The front page of The Nightly for 12-07-2024

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