Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman Unconvincingly Fall for Each Other in Confused A Family Affair

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Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman Unconvincingly Fall for Each Other in Confused A Family Affair

Joey King is a firecracker. In Netflix’s rom-com A Family Affair, her outsized charm and effortless comedic chops easily steals focus from Zac Efron’s abs and AMC Theaters’ Queen of Cinema Nicole Kidman. As the sassy assistant to Efron’s Hollywood himbo Chris Cole and the daughter of Kidman’s award-winning author Brooke Harwood, King’s Zara Ford has that typically thankless role of playing chipper support to the bigger-name leads. Except, King immediately pulls away from the trio as the one actor trying to breathe life into this drippy May-December/coming-of-age/mother-daughter story.

The premise of A Family Affair is essentially a lesser version of Anne Hathaway’s recent Prime Video rom-com, The Idea of You, just remixed with a younger actor instead of a singer, an older daughter in the middle and an absence of chemistry between the lovers. Zara is the harried 24-year-old daughter of a massively successful and ethereally gorgeous mother (and widow), Brooke. As the assistant to action star Cole, Zara gets to be an agony aunt for his shallow insecurities, buy his groceries and help him execute his tried and true “nice guy” break-up routine when he’s ready to move on to greener pastures. She stays because he’s promised her a producer’s title at his company, and she has no problem being brutally honest to his face, which Chris sort of appreciates.

However, his latest temper tantrum is a bridge too far, so Zara quits without a fallback. She lives with her mom, doesn’t really have a skillset to do much else and she still wants to produce. Chris soon realizes he needs his favorite doormat, so he shows up unannounced at Brooke’s home and asks to wait for Zara. Within minutes, tequila shots are had, tepid flirting is attempted and he and Brooke are all over each other. Of course, Zara arrives and is appalled to witness their sin—a rift is formed.

Thankfully, screenwriter Carrie Solomon nixes any hint of a love triangle, instead pursuing the “mom betrayed me with my jerk ex-boss” and the May-December romance avenues. However, Frankenstein-ing all of these divergent stories into something tonally cohesive is way beyond the control of Solomon or director Richard LaGravenese. King commits to remaining in a comedy. Efron and Kidman, meanwhile, veer off into a more serious romance as Chris connects to Brooke, and Brooke allows herself to give into his advances after an 11-year drought of single-minded single-parenting.

LaGravenese dredges up all of the tired rom-com techniques to fast-track their fast fall for one another: needle drop montages with canoodling, romantic dates and sunset smooches. Chris even brings Brooke to a movie studio after hours so they can play in the prop house then bone in the backlot. It’s tough to buy what Chris is laying on thick for Brooke when the first act of the movie does a pretty effective job portraying him as a narcissistic, non-malicious but entirely selfish cliché.

As for Brooke, she immediately lays out her rules to Chris: don’t break my heart, don’t lie to me and don’t pretend this is more than it is. Very forthright and proactive non-negotiables that gave me hope she might be allowed a grown-up approach to this affair. But a few days later, she’s telling Zara that she’s starting to feel things for Chris and the proverbial record needle scratches. Maybe this would play better if there was any chemistry between Efron and Kidman, but they elicit a dry Sahara every time they lip lock or giggle to one another. The timeline is also executed like a speed-dating exercise, which means we’re just supposed to buy their bond via gauzy montage. And despite the discord amongst the trio, the plausible shenanigans go so far as them agreeing to spend Christmas together at grandma Laila’s (Kathy Bates), which makes Brooke look like a selfish match made in heaven for Chris.

As one might expect, the best scene in A Family Affair happens between Bates and Kidman when they have a heart-to-heart about Brooke’s marriage and her pull towards Chris. It’s a genuine moment between two excellent actresses, making you wish the film was trying harder to earn this kind of elevated work. In general, the script isn’t interested in having Brooke or Chris or Zara be more than cartoony versions of the tropes they’re playing, so when they confront one another, it’s like that Spider-Man pointing meme with Brooke, Zara and Chris all equally guilty of bad communication and emotional depth.

A Family Affair isn’t bargain basement, Hallmark movie bad. It’s just too many different movies squished into an awkward rom-com wrapper. If the script picked a lane and stuck to it, perhaps therein would lie success. When King and Efron are grooving to their boss/assistant bickering beat, Affair is the most believable and entertaining. As for the rest, it’s been done better and with more depth in a zillion other films.

Director: Richard LaGravenese
Writers: Carrie Solomon
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, Joey King, Liza Koshy, Kathy Bates
Release Date: June 28, 2024 (Netflix)

Tara Bennett is a Los Angeles-based writer covering film, television and pop culture for publications such as SFX Magazine, NBC Insider, SYFY Wire and more. She’s also written official books on Sons of Anarchy, Outlander, Fringe, The Story of Marvel Studios, Avatar: The Way of Water and the upcoming The Art of Ryan Meinerding. You can follow her on Twitter @TaraDBennett or Instagram @TaraDBen

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