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A Family Affair

As mundane as its title, with characters whose color-by-numbers personalities and motivations shift randomly to fit a predictable storyline, “A Family Affair” is a low-wattage rom-com. As with last month’s streaming romance “The Idea of You,” this film features a gorgeous Oscar-winning actress as a middle-aged woman falling for a much younger superstar performer, with all the ensuing hijinks. 

“Paperboy” co-stars Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron play award-winning author Brooke Harwood and superhero franchise star Chris Cole, whose meet-cute is that Brooke’s 24-year-old daughter Zara (Joey King) is the movie star’s long-suffering personal assistant, on call 24/7 for everything from picking up his dry-cleaning and groceries to just-in-time delivery of the diamond stud earrings he gives to the girls he dates as a break-up present. Zara sees how self-absorbed and helpless Chris is, but she stays with him, hoping that he will deliver on his promise to help her career. 

Zara still lives with Brooke, a widow for 11 years.  They are both very close to Leila (Kathy Bates), Brooke’s warm-hearted and supportive mother-in-law and Zara’s grandmother.

Zara finally gets fed up and quits her job, just as Chris is about to start filming another sequel in his popular “Icarus” series. Chris goes to the house to persuade Zara to come back. He meets Brooke, and soon, they are literally ripping each other’s clothes off, just in time for Zara to come home and discover them in flagrante delicto. This leads to what is supposed to be an amusing scene of Zara retching. It is not.   

Horrified as Zara is, she agrees to return to work for Chris in exchange for an associate producer credit on his new movie and a promise that he will never see her mother again. He keeps the first promise but not the second, leading to the expected complications and confrontations.

There are no surprises here, but there are a few sharp observations and bright moments when screenwriter Carrie Soloman has some fun with the movie industry setting. The opening montage that establishes Chris as a huge star hits all the right notes, from the magazine covers (GQ, Vanity Fair) to the speculation about his dating life to a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and his appearance on “Hot Ones.” In a case of art imitating life, a scene of Chris taking an ice bath was inspired by real-life Zac Efron's bulking-up regimen for "The Iron Claw."

Zara is on a first-name basis with the paparazzi who swarm outside his gate. The latest “Icarus” franchise film, repeatedly described as “’Die Hard’ meets ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ with a little bit of ‘Speed,’” is directed by a French woman who does not speak English, and Chris has to re-shoot a scene because they can’t have a gun in the trailer for a PG-13. When Zara gets stuck in traffic and is late getting to the restaurant where Chris plans to break up with his girlfriend, he complains that the wait meant he had to think of too many things to say. The big pink robot statue in Chris’s home is precisely the overpriced junk a young guy who is suddenly rich would think was cool.

But the idea of a show business pretty boy who is more lonely than entitled is stale, and this film desperately needed to make it fresh. After establishing Chris as self-absorbed and not very bright, we are asked to believe that he and an award-winning novelist with shelves of books would bond over her explaining that the character he is known for is named after the Greek myth of the boy who flew too close to the sun, promise each other to have meaningless sex, and then develop an enduring romance. 

Their relationship never meets even the low bar for a suspended-disbelief pretty-people-smooching movie. Though King does her best to be harried, anxious, and horrified, Zara’s best friends, played by Liza Koshy and Sherry Cola, are more vibrant and interesting than she is. The last section is very weak, with an unnecessary mix-up, an overdue reality check, and a zigzag into a Hallmark-channel-like cozy white Christmas. The low point is a jarring confession that seems to be intended to make the Brooke/Chris connection more believable but seems like the kind of random punch-up that Zara and her screenwriter friend would jettison. 

Nell Minow

Nell Minow is the Contributing Editor at RogerEbert.com.

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Film Credits

A Family Affair movie poster

A Family Affair (2024)

Rated PG-13

113 minutes

Cast

Nicole Kidman as Brooke Harwood

Zac Efron as Chris Cole

Joey King as Zara Ford

Kathy Bates as Leila Ford

Director

Writer

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