An affair between Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron should make a perfect rom-com. But is A Family Affair any good? (2024)

Over the years, Netflix has seemed determined to test the limits of the age-old question: must a rom-com actually be good?

The streamer's latest entry in the genre, A Family Affair, boasts its starriest leads yet: Zac Efron (rocking his Iron Claw physique) as A-list superhero actor Chris, and Nicole Kidman as Brooke, an acclaimed writer and single mother of the actor's under-appreciated personal assistant.

On a casting level alone, a former teen heart-throb courting one of the last major movie stars (mere weeks after receiving an AFI Life Achievement Award) is pure rom-com gold. Yet the surrounding film is so tepid and thoughtlessly conceived, it manages to undermine one of the most inspired romantic pairings the genre has recently seen.

At the fulcrum of this relationship is Joey King's (Bullet Train) Zara, an aspiring Hollywood hit-maker still young enough to live with her mother, and to persist in a toxic work relationship with Chris for the loose promise of upskilling at his production company.

As his assistant, Zara is tasked with late-night shopping errands (Chris being unfamiliar with what a grocery store looks like), navigating temper tantrums, and facilitating regular break-ups. She also gently presses her boss to pursue more fulfilling projects beyond his latest superhero sequel, which is pitched as "Die Hard meets Miracle on 34th Street". It's one of the rare jokes that actually lands.

An affair between Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron should make a perfect rom-com. But is A Family Affair any good? (1)

The movie would have you believe that Chris is enough of a self-absorbed, womanising jerk to somehow not have any friends — in Hollywood, of all places! When a heated argument culminates in Zara's firing, he turns up to her house to apologise; instead, he finds Brooke, who quickly warms to the sensitive soul within.

Apparently, Chris, being a friendless man in his mid-30s, never registers as a red flag; nor does the fact that he's a nightmarish employer who lords over her daughter. To the film's credit, it never depicts their 14-year age gap as outlandish or worthy of ridicule, even if it's not exactly a stretch to suggest that two outrageously attractive people may be interested in one another.

Following some light flirtation and several glasses of tequila, they find themselves in Brooke's bedroom, only to be walked in on by an incredulous Zara. After getting her job back, she makes her mum promise to never date Chris (again, not an unreasonable demand) — but soon enough, Brooke and Chris find themselves entangled in a clandestine romance.

While its premise screams Wattpad self-insert fan fiction (Netflix itself touts this as "a motherf*&#er of a love story"), A Family Affair is actively resistant to enjoying itself. The naughtiness of going behind your daughter's back to sleep with her hunky A-list actor boss is puzzlingly played straight, demanding the audience take its absurd chain of events seriously.

An affair between Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron should make a perfect rom-com. But is A Family Affair any good? (2)

It's impossible to avoid comparisons with The Idea of You, the recent Prime Video rom-com that saw Anne Hathaway fall in love with Nicholas Galitzine as Harry Styles (in all but name) — again, with a 16-year gap. That film surprised audiences by grounding its inherent silliness in a sincere reflection on middle age, misogyny and sex. A Family Affair is only interested in honing in on a scattershot mother-daughter relationship.

Even when rom-coms are bad, they can at least be gloriously steamy and affably silly (see: The Kissing Booth, Joey King's notorious breakout film). But this film can't even muster the energy to revel in the good kind of trash.

In fact, it can barely be bothered to look like a movie. The whole thing is ugly as sin, with eerie lighting that transmutes flesh into wax, and dull colours that dampen what little joy it has to offer.

Like last year's spy rom-com Ghosted, A Family Affair proves how low the bar for star-studded streaming originals can go. The bar for theatrical exhibition may not be far behind, but it's difficult to imagine a traditional studio letting a movie (at least with this calibre of casting) release in cinemas while looking so viscerally unpleasant.

Even the most disposable rom-coms of the 00s used to at least avoid making movie stars resemble uncanny digital apparitions. Faces here are often muddy or shrouded in harsh light, hewing towards the kind of unvarnished aesthetic of reality TV.

An affair between Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron should make a perfect rom-com. But is A Family Affair any good? (3)

In sacrificing the visual glamour integral to the genre, these films shrink down the fantasies they attempt to sell, and A Family Affair inexplicably makes the prospect of dating a famous actor seem hideously dull.

The strategy behind these films seems less concerned with showcasing its acting talent, and more focused on assembling a cast that can look enticing on a thumbnail. Kidman and Efron merely exist to sell the illusion of prestige.

It's cinema with the philosophy of Shein; the cheapness can be felt.

A Family Affair is streaming on Netflix now.

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An affair between Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron should make a perfect rom-com. But is A Family Affair any good? (2024)
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