With an incisive understanding of character, believably naturalistic acting, and lengthy scenes that don't feel so much stretched out as given room to breathe, In the Family proves that smart direction and an innate feeling for one's material trumps potentially precious subject matter. Writer/director/star Patrick Wang's film chronicles the efforts of Joey Williams (Wang) to retain custody of the 6-year-old boy he raised as a son after the boy's father (and Joey's romantic partner), Cody (Trevor St. John), is killed in a car accident. As homophobia rears its ugly head both subtly and brutally, Joey fights the efforts of Cody's sister and brother-in-law to take his son away. But rather than turn this into a melodramatic look at gay victimization, Wang keeps his film pitched at the same level as his mild-mannered hero's demeanor. Using long, fixed takes, the director makes his argument about family values not through overheated dramatics but simply through observation. Whether depicting Joey's son opening a beer and offering it to his dad, flashing back to Joey and Cody's first kiss, or presenting Joey's stirring testimony at a legal deposition, Wang evinces a keen awareness of the ways in which family members interact, grieve, and open their hearts to one another.
Protective parents Wang (left) and St. John.
Runs Fri., Oct. 5-Thurs., Oct. 11 at Northwest Film Forum. Not rated. 169 minutes.