Patrick Wang studied physics and economics in Boston but moved into theater and debuted as a filmmaker with the
169-minute In The Family (2011), a lengthy portrait of a man deprived
of his family.
Wang specializes in very detailed scenes,
as if he were livestreaming ordinary family life.
He can build tension and suspense while he is on purpose diluting them in
a sea of apparently pointless details, slowing down the time of the film to
almost real lived time.
A child, Chip, wakes up his father Joey, and we see that Joey is in bed with
another man, Cody: that's Chip's father too. Chip calls both "dad".
Cody drives Chip to school. He is a teacher himself.
Joey is at work with his coworkers: he is into renovation.
Cody gives a ride back home to both Chip and his cousin Blake, son of Cody's sister Eileen.
One day Eileen calls that Cody had an accident.
At the hospital Eileen's husband Dave tells Joey that the doctor is operating on Cody.
Joey has to introduce himself to the receptionist as a housemate.
She is cold and slightly embarrassed when she understands that Joey is the
sexual partner. That is nothing compared with the nurse who comes to give
news: she ignores Joey and only talks to Dave, Eileen and Cody's mother Sally.
The nurse doesn't admit Joey to see Dave after the operation: Joey is not a
member of the family.
Only the receptionist understands Joey's situation and is trying to find a way
for Joey to visit Dave when the camera moves outside and we can't hear the voices anymore, but we guess that the doctor just told Joey that Cody is dead.
A few days later, Joey and Chip are home, just the two of them.
Joey sits petrified. Chip casually
opens a bottle and serves it to Joey, waking him up from his grieving trance.
A flashback shows how Joey met Cody: he was hired by Cody's pregnant wife to renovate their home.
When Joey visits Eileen and Dave, we see that they live in a much nicer home.
Joey is struggling to pay the mortgage and other bills left behind, but doesn't want money: he is behaving like the widow who has to take over from the dead husband.
He mentions to Eileen that he didn't find Cody's will, but Eileen has a surprise for him: Cody did write a will, when Chip was just born, and appointed Eileen as the executor.
Cody's will left the house to Eileen and left Eileen as the guardian of Chip.
Joey is shocked that Eileen is taking seriously a will written by Cody so many
years earlier, but she notes that Cody had all those years to change it and never did; and asks Joey to respect Cody's will.
Joey, upset, leaves with Chip.
The Thanksgiving holiday is coming up and Joey realizes that he's not welcome anymore at Sally's dinner.
Joey drops off Chip at Sally's place for the dinner, planning to pick him up
the day after.
A flashback shows the first time that Joey met Sally, when Cody took him to Thanksgiving dinner, which is also when he first met Eileen.
Joey returns home to eat alone a simple dinner. Two coworkers (Helen and Anne)
with special dishes and company.
The following day Joey tries to pick up Chip but Sally doesn't open the door.
He calls her and she tells him that Chip has been taken by Eileen and Dave.
Joey knocks in vain at Eileen's door.
Joey returns home alone. A flashback shows him with Cody when Cody was
devastated by the loss of his wife and Joey told him that he himself had gone
through several losses
(mother, father, sister, foster father and foster mother).
Joey is served with a restraining order filed by Eileen: he can't even come
close to Chip. Helen and Anne hears of it and keep him company, as furious as
him at the way he is being treated.
His kind neighbor Gloria, an elementary school teacher who knows Chip,
suggests that Joey meet with her lawyer, Charles.
So far every lawyer has turned him down: he has no legal claim to a
child whose parents are both dead.
A flashback shows Anne listening outside the door while Joey is telling chip
a dragon story, and Anne is both smiling and crying.
Joey meets with lawyer Charles and tells him that he and Cody raised Chip
together after Cody's wife died (she died giving birth to Chip).
The lawyer stops him right away and tells him that he doesn't have a
child custody case: it's a lost cause. Even if a lawyer accepted to
represent him in such a pointless custody battle, no
judge in that conservative region would legitimize a gay relationship
and prefer him over a regular family to raise a child.
Joey realizes that no lawyer will represent him.
One day Anne uses a trick to make Joey listen to Chip playing with Blake:
Anne calls Joey pretending that she's calling Gloria and lets the phone
open so Joey can listen to what is going on, i.e. Chip playing with Blake.
Joey is working on the renovation of the fancy home of Marge and her husband Paul, a retired lawyer. Paul overhears Joey's tragedy and volunteers to represent him.
A flashback shows Joey moving in with Cody, after finished the renovation, and Cody kissing him while listening to music. It was Cody who started it. Chip was still in the crib. Chip grew up his whole life knowing two dads.
Paul advises him to try a humane approach to the lawsuit. Joey
renounces to home and bank accounts
just for a chance to talk to Dave and Eileen.
Eileen's lawyer takes advantage of the voluntary "deposition" to bring up
Joey's violent record while in the orphanage, and to make insinuations that
everybody around Joey dies (Cody and his wife after Joey's
mother, father, sister, foster father and foster mother).
The lawyer also implies that Joey seduced Cody who had never displayed homosexual tendencies before.
When it's his turn to speak, Joey simply tells Dave and Eileen about
his life with Cody and Chip.
His talk moves Eileen.
Later Dave shows up at Joey's place to apologize for their lawyer's nasty
insinuations. And then he reveals a surprise: Chip comes out of the car.
They hug and we don't know what happens next but presumably some
reconciliation will take place.
The Grief of Others (2015) is an adaptation of Leah Hager Cohen's 2011 novel.
A Bread Factory (2018)