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(The 2018 SXSW Film Festival kicked off March 9 and ran all the way through to March 17. Hammer to Nail has a slew of reviews and interviews coming in hot and heavy so keep your dial tuned to HtN!)

Frank (Jim Gaffigan) is a ketchup mogul who expects his son Philip (Logan Miller) to follow his lead. Problem number one is the domineering father and rebellious son have nothing in common and can’t seem to get along. Philip is the opposite of Frank’s ideal son, just as Frank is the opposite of Philip’s ideal father. Too bad they can’t choose their family – but, wait, the film’s title suggests that maybe they can!

Without revealing the major plot twist of Miranda Bailey’s You Can Choose Your Family, I will just say that Philip discovers a way to flip the tables on Frank. Philip psychologically tortures Frank with certain facts that are destined to drastically alter both of their lives. The upside of the whole experience is that Philip and Frank are able to see each other in a different light.

Although the conclusion is frustratingly preposterous, the characters in You Can Choose Your Family seem authentic. Growing up, I knew a lot of fathers like Frank. Most of them went on long business trips, and on the occasions they were actually at home they acted like they resented their family. For whatever reason, those fathers always seemed to be the strictest, meanest, and most condescending. It also makes sense that fathers like Frank have rebellious sons like Philip. The two primary wives/mothers (Anna Gunn and Samantha Mathis) in the story function as polar opposite types – which could have very easily been played as exaggerated stereotypes, but thankfully weren’t. Okay, so there is the stoner (Alex Karpovsky) who is as goofy of a caricature as they come (he delivers the most laughs), but the comically used stoner is offset by a minor character who is developed just enough for a subtle yet meaningful LGBTQ-friendly subplot.

You Can Choose Your Family is mostly a story about male relationships, specifically the inherent power struggle between father and son. Both males showcase their stubbornness and arrogance in different ways; they both withhold information and deceive others in different ways as well. It is also revealing how they each struggle in their interactions with women. They certainly aren’t as mature as the women who surround them.

– Don Simpson (@thatdonsimpson)

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