‘A Family Affair’ Review: Nicole Kidman & Zac Efron Find Each Other In Smart, Funny Rom-Com Where Age Is Just A Number

The original title of the new romantic comedy A Family Affair was the much-edgier MotherF*&#er, and despite being very funny in terms of the basic story of an older woman who starts an affair with the younger movie-star boss of her 24-year-old daughter, it probably sets off wrong expectations for what is a smart, character-driven romcom that serves up a delicious cast with a witty script and engaging situation for all. The generic title gets more to the point as this all directly involves three people in a multi-generational coming-of-age tale for all in their search for personal happiness.

Netflix actually is using that original title in its ad line for the film, calling it “A MotherF*&#er of a Love Story,” and that says it all. Coming on the heels of Amazon’s rom-com The Idea of Youin which a fortysomething single mom (Anne Hathaway) finds unexpected love with a 24-year-old rock superstar played by (Nicholas Galitzine) when she chaperones her teenage daughter to his group’s concert, A Family Affair also finds plenty of mileage in a similar setup.

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Nicole Kidman plays Brooke Harwood, a famous author enduring a lull in her career when into her life comes a much-younger man, thritysomething action-movie star Chris Cole (Zac Efron), who also is the somewhat obnoxious and demanding boss to Brooke’s daughter Zara. She’s at a frustrating point in her career, still forced to cater to Cole’s every whim as his assistant and failing to move up the ladder to associate producer as he had promised she might. Instead he’s constantly threatening to fire her on the days she isn’t threatening to quit. Life, however, is about to get very complicated when sparks fly after a chance encounter between Chris and Zara’s mother, with whom she still lives at home.

Brooke has been widowed for 11 years, and not necessarily looking for love in her life. She is wise, proud of her daughter and hoping for the best for her but now unexpectedly is falling for a movie star who deep down is quite insecure. Zara is skeptical, to say the least, as she is the one who has always had to do the dirty work in Cole’s previous relationships, where his track record is to get out of them with a goodbye gift of diamond earrings. She fears, with good reason, things could go south now with her mother as this new relationship hits just a little too close to home.

Screenwriter Carrie Solomon was just about the age of Zara when she got the inspiration to write a script about the older woman/younger man romance, a flip of the usual Hollywood menu of older man/younger woman that long has been favored in the movies, or in scandalous real-life couplings like the recent May December was inspired by. Significantly she has set the film during the Christmas season, but this isn’t what you would call a “Christmas movie” so it doesn’t seem glaringly out of place in June where it is being released.

Casting in these rom-coms is crucial, and fortunately Kidman and Efron had a head start as they were cinematically involved in the very different pic, Lee Daniels’ 2012 drama The Paperboy. Here you instantly believe the chemistry despite the 21-year age difference between the two stars. How refreshing it is as well to see Kidman, very appealing here, in a rare romantic comedy role, one she clearly is relishing but also one she credibly grounds in reality. We must believe this conceited movie star, always catered to, can be legitimately attracted to his long-suffering assistant’s mother — and vice versa — and the stars make us buy it.

As for Efron, his comic timing is right on the money, especially in his work relationship with Zara, the pair playing off each other in time-honored screwball-comedy fashion. King is simply terrific here, proving she has the same impressive chops for comedy, even in some slapstick moments, as she does for more tortured dramatic roles like The Act and the current We Were the Lucky Ones.

Adding nicely to the mix is the ever-reliable Kathy Bates, turning up often these days in supporting roles, this one as Brooke’s mother-in-law and editor who offers sage advice not just to Brooke but also her own granddaughter. A game Liza Koshy gets the more standard best-friend role to Zara but doesn’t get much of a chance to run with it.

Director Richard LaGravenese, best known for his screenplays including The Horse Whisperer, The Fisher King, The Bridges of Madison County, and so many others, here has one of his best efforts as director. He expertly navigates the comic beats of this situation, effectively balancing the more emotional moments as well. He and Solomon are not reinventing the rom-com wheel but have delivered a bright and sophisticated entertainment for adults looking for the kind of grownup movie that increasingly is rare — outside of streamers, at least, which is exactly where, like The Idea of You, audiences are going to have to find this one. Seek it out.

Producers are Joe Roth and Jeff Kirschenbaum.

Title: A Family Affair
Distributor: Netflix
Release date: June 28, 2024
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Screenwriter: Carrie Solomon
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, Joey King, Kathy Bates, Liza Koshy
Running time: 1 hr, 51 mins

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