Family, a sunny and likable small-scale comedy from first-time filmmaker Laura Steinel, belongs to the subcategory of movies in which bad role models and hopeless kids are paired up so they can learn from each other: Bad Santa, Bad Teacher, Role Models, School of Rock, etc. In this one, selfish, bad-with-kids career gal Kate Stone (Taylor Schilling) is conscripted by her brother (Eric Edelstein) and sister-in-law (Allison Tolman) to spend a few days babysitting their friendless 11-year-old daughter, Maddie (Bryn Vale). This necessitates staying at their suburban home, which Kate views with disdain (she’s the “Yuck, these people eat at Olive Garden!” kind of snob), almost as beneath her as childcare is.
The hook? It’s while under Aunt Kate’s unwatchful eye that Maddie finally makes some friends … but they’re Juggalos, i.e., devotees of the trashy, violent horror-rap group called Insane Clown Posse. ICP’s music is unlistenable for most humans, but it’s not Maddie’s musical tastes that Kate worries about (I don’t think Maddie even listens to any). The Juggalos hold a gathering every year that’s like Burning Man for dirtbags and thugs who paint their faces to look like nightmare-clowns and give themselves faux-tough street names. And Maddie is only 11, far too young for such a thing, even if the specific new Juggalo friends she’s made are decent enough.
The last chunk of the film is a tangent meant to reshape our views of ICP and the Juggalos. This may be a worthy endeavor — appearances notwithstanding, there is reportedly a strong and wholesome sense of community among Juggalos, whose fascination with stabbing is generally tongue-in-cheek — but it feels too specific here: Once you introduce Juggalos into a story, it becomes a story about Juggalos, not about the aunt and her niece bonding. But Schilling is sharply funny, she works well with the morose Vale, and, unlike most films that follow this formula, Steinel’s screenplay doesn’t lean too much on “adults saying transgressive things in front of kids” for laughs. It might even turn you into a fan of Insane Clown Posse (though probably not).