The Talent Given Us

If you think the only thing worse than a cross-country road trip with your own folks is riding shotgun with a family of dysfunctional strangers, you'll have a tough time getting through the first half of writer/director Andrew Wagner's audacious debut feature. Inspired by Wagner's own family and starring his real-life parents and sisters, this curious blend...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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If you think the only thing worse than a cross-country road trip with your own folks is riding shotgun with a family of dysfunctional strangers, you'll have a tough time getting through the first half of writer/director Andrew Wagner's audacious debut feature. Inspired by Wagner's own family and starring his real-life parents and sisters, this curious blend of fact and fiction is ultimately worth the trip — just don't forget to pack the Advil. Looking every bit like an actual verité documentary, Wagner's camera catches up with the elderly Allen (Allen Wagner) and Judy (Judy Wagner) at their home on Manhattan's Upper West Side. A retired veteran of the apoplectic battlefield that is the New York Stock Exchange, Allen now faces a far more daunting challenge. His health has begun to deteriorate, and the combination of illness and medication has left him with a throaty growl, a protruding tongue and swollen lips from which a length of chewed-up plastic straw invariably dangles. It's also left him with no libido, and after nearly 50 years of marriage, wife Judy has begun to wonder whether it's time to move on. A last-minute visit from daughter Emily (Emily Wagner), an aspiring actress who found some success out in L.A. as a regular on E.R., occasions a family trip to the Wagner's beach house with Emily's equally narcissistic single sister, Maggie (Maggie Wagner), in tow. But as soon as they arrive in Atlantic Beach, Judy insists that Allen turn the car around. She's suddenly seized by an urgent need to find their son, Andrew, who hasn't been answering his phone, and wants to tighten the family bonds that have loosened over the years. It doesn't seem to matter that Andrew now lives in L.A.; they'll simply drive until they find him. The noise level on the first leg of the trip is unbearable. Maggie and Allen bicker over the driving, Allen and Judy bicker over past infidelities, and the overly therapized Emily seems intent on using this quality time to explore all the ways Judy and Allen have ruined her life. It would all amount to little more than an uncomfortable hour and a half of dirty laundry if it weren't for the natural charm of Allen and Judy Wagner, nonactors who nevertheless project an unexpected amount of charisma. It's hard to know whether Andrew Wagner — who, like his character in the movie, teaches film to inner-city kids while writing scripts in his spare time — really believes all those hoary platitudes about living life and loving your family, but they're easily digested with a dash of ironic salt.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: If you think the only thing worse than a cross-country road trip with your own folks is riding shotgun with a family of dysfunctional strangers, you'll have a tough time getting through the first half of writer/director Andrew Wagner's audacious debut feat… (more)

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