Bryn Vale and Taylor Schilling in a scene from 'Family'

Bryn Vale and Taylor Schilling in a scene from 'Family' 

“What’s a Juggalo?” I get that question a lot from people unfamiliar with the band Insane Clown Posse. It’s a term given to the group’s enthusiastic fans, many of whom feel misunderstood or looked down upon by society for being true to themselves like 11-year old Maddie (Bryn Vale), a bullied loner who’s forced to take ballet lessons when she’d rather practice karate. Taylor Schilling plays Maddie’s aunt Kate, a self-absorbed senior-level executive who treats her coworkers like dirt. She’s not mean-spirited just clueless with no filter. Kate reluctantly agrees to babysit Maddie after a family emergency which leads to some very funny moments in writer-director Laura Steinel’s debut feature. Think of “Family” as a cross between a John Hughes film and the R-rated comedy “Role Models.”

“Orange is the New Black’s” Taylor Schilling is the driving force behind Steinel’s very funny comedy. The actress who was seen earlier this year in the horror film “The Prodigy” and the Emilio Estevez drama “The Public” heads back to comedy with a flawless performance as the self-absorbed hedge fund executive Kate Stone. She’s a bit crasser than Gary Cole’s Bill Lumbergh in “Office Space” which produces some laugh out loud moments when dealing with coworkers.

When the office throws a baby shower for pregnant employee Sarah (Karan Kendrick), they purposely neglect to tell Kate who catches wind of the office gathering and shows up anyway just to have cake. When Sarah mentions she’ll be out for two months on maternity leave but back in time to handle the important Parsons account, Kate remarks “I took you off it. You’re having a baby and probably won’t come back.” As the other employees look on in disbelief, Sarah mentions “I am coming back, and you can’t fire me, it’s illegal.” Without missing a beat and while eating cake, Kate remarks “I’m not firing you. Your pregnancy is high risk and considered geriatric.” Kate says things out loud that most people just think about saying. She has no filter.

The film moves from “Office Space” territory to “Adventures in Babysitting” or “Uncle Buck” from John Hughes crossed with the R-rated “Role Models” as Kate is asked by her estranged brother (Eric Edelstein) to babysit her niece Maddie (Bryn Vale) because his mother-in-law is dying and they are going to move her to hospice. Kate says “No” but reluctantly agrees after her brother begs and pleads. Bryn Vale is terrific as 11-year old Maddie who goes through life bullied and forced to take ballet lessons by her well intending mother played by Allison Tolman who was born and raised in Sugarland. The one day favor turns into a week and the hijinks begin.

As expected, Kate is a horrible babysitter who feeds Maddie chicken parm every night and drops her off at the wrong school. She also leaves the tween behind at a gas station convenience store where Maddie meets teenage employee Dennis aka Baby Joker (Fabrizio Zacharee Guido), a fan of Insane Clown Posse who schools Maddie on the band and its dedicated followers known as Juggalos.

Part of “Family” was filmed at the Gathering of the Juggalos or GOTJ, the annual concert festival where fans of Insane Clown Posse and groups on the band’s Psychopathic Records, come to celebrate underground hip-hop and rock in a carnival atmosphere that includes rides, games, karaoke, and wrestling. Celebrities that include Ice Cube, Charlie Sheen, Tech N9ne, Ying Yang Twins, Cheech and Chong, and Drowning Pool have appeared at the festival where Juggalos or Juggalettes don clown makeup to show their support as one big family. Steinel’s film conveys the message that you don’t have to be born into a family to become part of one.

Schilling and Vale are terrific as the mismatched duo who raise Steinel’s film to the next level. There is also a great supporting cast that includes a funny Kate McKinnon as Maddie’s next door neighbor, a soccer mom who tries to bond with Kate often with hilarious results and Brian Tyree Henry (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) as Sensei Pete, a karate instructor who bonds with Maddie after she sneaks into his dojo to practice martial arts instead of attending her ballet lessons next door.

As the film progresses Kate grows a heart and realizes that her priorities are mixed up (we’ve all seen that before) but “Family” remains a fresh comedy thanks to its raunchiness and first-rate performances. Both Kate and Maddie are outcasts who learn a lesson from each other while the audience is treated to some very funny comedy.

(3 stars)

Showing in Houston at Regal Edwards Greenway Grand Palace and AMC Studio 30.  In Austin at Regal Arbor @ Great Hills

Joe Friar is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society.  He co-founded the Victoria Film Society and reviews films for Hit Radio 104.7 and the Victoria Advocate.

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Joe Friar is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. He co-founded the Victoria Film Society and reviews films for Hit Radio 104.7 and the Victoria Advocate."

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