Metro Weekly

‘A Family Affair’ Fizzles Despite Star-Studded Cast (Review)

Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman are a match made in Never-Neverland in the bouncy but basic rom-com "A Family Affair."

A Family Affair: Nicole Kidman, Joey King, and Zac Efron
A Family Affair: Nicole Kidman, Joey King, and Zac Efron

The first time Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman teamed up onscreen, twelve years ago in the batshit crazy Lee Daniels production The Paperboy, romance between their characters Jack and Charlotte did not work out.

Good Southern boy Jack was obsessed with floozy Charlotte, but Charlotte was obsessed with a convicted killer who got saved from the electric chair and released from prison, then dragged Charlotte off to go live in a swamp.

Kidman managed to garner Golden Globe and SAG nominations — perhaps just for enduring the lurid thriller, which also featured Matthew McConaughey, as Efron’s older brother, getting gang-raped and beaten in a gay B&D situation gone way wrong — but Nic and Zac, as a potential pairing, were more cringe than compelling.

Their not-quite chemistry was aptly demonstrated in the film’s most memorable scene, set on a beach, with bikini-clad Kidman squatting over Efron to piss away his jellyfish stings. Rest assured, nothing half as jaw-droppingly WTF goes down in Efron and Kidman’s exceedingly tame new Netflix romcom A Family Affair.

This time, the stars get to explore their onscreen chemistry in far cushier circumstances. The pair’s purported carnal heat still doesn’t convince, but at least Efron and Kidman generate enough low-impact good vibes to help float along this air bubble of a romance between Hollywood movie star Chris Cole (Efron) and widowed writer Brooke Harwood (Kidman), an Aussie living in L.A.

The two are meant to be a mismatched pair. He’s as Hollywood as they come, the face of a blockbuster action-movie franchise, his chiseled mug splashed across billboards and magazine covers.

Brooke, meanwhile, resides at the opposite end of the flashy fame-whore spectrum in quiet, introspective semi-solitude by the sea. She writes articles, and is working on a follow-up to her last best-selling book, but the new book seems a hard nut to crack. More importantly, she’s still trying to find herself since the death 11 years ago of her husband Charlie.

“Do you feel irrelevant?” Brooke asks her mother-in-law, Leila, who also happens to be her book editor, and is played by Kathy Bates with a bag full of knowing smiles and folksy wisdom. When Brooke’s not using Leila as a sounding board, she can contemplate such major life questions from the comfort of her seaside patio.

Directed by Richard LaGravenese, A Family Affair fully leans into its Nancy Meyers-movie, lush living fantasy. At one point, Chris whisks Brooke away from her fabulous oceanside writer’s pad to his shabby-chic oceanside movie star pad, for more long walks and kisses, board games, wine, and sunsets. Brooke rocks an array of Malibu-comfy sweaters and ponchos to complete the candlelit, Goop-coded idyll.

Neither the couple nor anyone in their circle seems especially bothered by Chris and Brooke’s 16-year age difference. The only real complication is Brooke’s daughter Zara (Joey King), who also toils as Chris’ overworked personal assistant.

The story is told from her pointedly immature perspective. For Zara, 24 and wondering when her life will start, a romance between her mom and her boss poses a major conflict of interest. She knows a side of Chris that her mom doesn’t see — like that he forces her to write a letter of apology for her perceived fuck-ups, or that he thinks nothing of calling her in the wee hours to go fetch his protein powder from the grocery store.

The satire of spoiled star vs. frazzled assistant is cutting and credible throughout — the romance, much less so. In a different era of romcom, Zara would be actively plotting to sabotage Chris and Brooke’s courtship, but here, she stumbles into screwing with their love story, mostly by being annoying.

Her overwrought freakouts lend little dramatic weight to her valid objections based on knowledge of how Chris treats the women he dates.

The character seems written younger than 24 for comedic effect, and King can’t sell all of Zara’s self-involved panic, as in the scene where Zara catches her mom and Chris in flagrante delicto, and repeatedly retches at the sight of shirtless, ab-tastic Efron. Girl, please.

The movie doesn’t give Zara any love life of her own, just a pair of besties — queer playwright Stella (Sherry Cola), and straight girl bride-to-be Eugenie (Liza Koshy) — to listen to her complain, then complain about always having to hear her complain.

Also in a different era of romcom, Stella and Eugenie would actually be funny, but there aren’t many laughs bouncing around this blandly pleasant, fetchingly lit affair.

Unless you want to focus on the wig they put on Kidman, apparently grabbed off an elf extra from Middle Earth, and infinitely more objectionable than a shirtless Zac Efron.

A Family Affair (★★☆☆☆) is rated PG-13, and is available for streaming on Netflix. Visit

The Paperboy is rated R, and is available for streaming on Peacock, if you dare. Visit

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