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Originally published Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 10:06 PM

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'In the Family': Insightful look at one family's transformation

A movie review of "In the Family," Patrick Wang's directorial debut about a family devastated by the tragedy of an early death.

The New York Times

Movie review

'In the Family,' with Trevor St. John, Patrick Wang, Sebastian Brodziak, Brian Murray, Kelly McAndrew. Written and directed by Patrick Wang. 169 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.

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You've probably heard little about "In the Family," a remarkably fresh and unpredictable drama set in the American everytown of Martin, Tenn. This off-the-map independent production is the first film by its writer, director and low-key leading man, Patrick Wang, whose creative background is in stage acting and dramaturgy.

Not surprisingly, the film boasts more than a few memorable performances — by Elaine Bromka, Park Overall and Kelly McAndrew, among others — and one truly remarkable turn by the stage great Brian Murray, as a grandfatherly Southern lawyer with a voice as smooth and warm as a tumbler of bourbon.

The story is both topical and timeless: a searching, present-tense study of evolving cultural values in the heartland and an unsentimental portrait of a family devastated by the tragedy of an early death.

Six-year-old Chip Hines (Sebastian Brodziak) lost his mother at birth, but his father, Cody (Trevor St. John), began dating not long after.

To the surprise of everyone in this traditional Southern family, including Cody himself, his new partner was a man — a man of Asian heritage, no less — named Joey Williams (Wang).

The members of the extended Hines clan welcome their new in-law to the family — some politely if uncomfortably, some with relaxed warmth. The exception is Chip, who openly embraces Joey as "Dad."

But when Cody gets in a fatal car accident, Joey's loss of a partner is compounded by a rapidly escalating custody battle with Chip's sister (McAndrew).

What follows is difficult to classify generically: It is too carefully distanced to be a melodrama, too personally specific to stand as a civil-rights allegory.

Scenes unfold in contemplative long takes and carefully framed, deep-focus compositions. Wang betrays his theatrical background with a slightly plodding tendency to begin and end scenes with arrivals or departures. But the pacing works quite well.

Though Wang's directorial eye may be untrained, it is extremely acute. This is a career to keep an eye on.

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