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The strange lesson from ‘Family’: Better living through child care

Taylor Schilling learns all sorts of life lessons when she has to take care of her niece.
Taylor Schilling learns all sorts of life lessons when she has to take care of her niece. Film Arcade

“Family,” Laura Steinel’s lightweight first feature, relies on audiences buying into the old chestnut that difficult women would be happier (or just easier to be around) if forced to care for a child.

In this version, the woman is a tactless workaholic who needs to connect with her feelings; just don’t expect those to entail an even greater appreciation for her job.

Kate (Taylor Schilling) excels as a vaguely high-powered executive at a New Jersey hedge fund. Socially, though, she’s a dud, alienating co-workers by saying exactly what she thinks. So when the brother she barely knows (Eric Edelstein) asks her to baby-sit her 11-year-old niece, Maddie (Bryn Vale), you can probably write the rest yourself — even if you neglect to pointlessly throw the clown-painted music fans known as Juggalos into the mix.

A brisk trot through Maddie’s problems follows. She’s bullied by mean girls and chafes against gender expectations, preferring karate to the ballet class her mother insists on. Predictably, Kate’s bungling interventions and newly acquired empathy cause her work to suffer, a mere trifle when the prize is reconnection with her estranged father. (I just wish that his drug dependencies didn’t seem to suggest that Kate’s workaholism was inherited addictive behavior, rather than a completely legitimate preference.)

Thoroughly good-natured and with a handful of decent jokes (like Kate McKinnon as a vulpine suburban mom), “Family” would be more interesting if, instead of trying to rewire Kate, it just admitted that her harsh honesty and benign neglect were more beneficial to Maddie than her mother’s anxious hovering. But that would mean conceding that Kate was just fine as she was.

‘Family’

Rated R for language, some sexual content and drug use.

Time: 1:25

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