All families have their issues, but most are not as problematic as the one in “You Can Choose Your Family.”
The film takes place in the 1990s and centers around Philip (Logan Miller), a high school senior getting ready to graduate and go off to pursue a career in music. His father, Frank (Jim Gaffigan), is hard on him. Like, really hard on him. Philip gets into NYU, but Frank tells him he’s not ready for New York City. Philip wants to be a musician, and his father looks down on it. Philip wants to go out with his friend Lewis (Daniel Rashid) for spring break, and Frank forbids it. So, after years of dealing with Frank’s rules, Philip rebels, heads out with Lewis and comes across something that he certainly will come to regret.
During his travels, he discovers his father has a whole other family; a wife, daughter and son, just like his own family. Posing as a son of Frank’s friend, Philip integrates himself into his father’s other family, much to Frank’s dismay, as the two of them attempt to figure out how to deal with the situation.
Immediately following Philip’s discovery and Frank’s knowledge of Philip’s discovery, the film moves at a fun and fast pace, setting up all of the reveals you know are coming. It is consistently exciting, and the story heads in directions that are sometimes unexpected.
How is Frank going to continue his double life? Will Philip tell his mother and sister? Why is Frank doing this in the first place? The film raises loads of questions and such perfectly thought out answers to them.
For such heavy material, “You Can Choose Your Family” handles the story in a light way, balancing comedy and emotion so that the true stakes are not lost. Gaffigan’s performance is so great, you’ll find yourself forgetting that Frank is a man who’s hard on his son and has kept up two families for a good portion of his life. Ultimately, he’s deceived two women who love him in the name of love itself. For all that the film asks you to take in, it doesn’t ever make you completely justify what Frank’s doing, but there are moments when you’ll feel sympathy.
Despite the film’s conflict being set in motion by Frank’s deception, the story follows Philip, and it’s his journey for validation from his father that we embark on. There are moments when he feels like a kid who just wants to appease Frank, but he’s a teenage boy, after all, raised by a strict dad. There are going to be plenty of times when he fights back, too, even when Frank is at his mercy.
For such an incredulous premise, nothing in the story feels forced. It’s clear director Miranda Bailey understands family dynamics very well and put in great effort to make them feel genuine rather than idealistic in this film.
“You Can Choose Your Family” is an absolute emotional joy that will have you crying one moment and laughing the next.
“You Can Choose Your Family” premiered at South By Southwest on March 11; there are no more festival screenings. Grade: A