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Nicole Kidman, Joey King, and Zac Efron in 'A Family Affair'.
Image via Netflix

‘A Family Affair’ review: Sorry Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine in ‘The Idea of You,’ Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron have got you beat

The rom-com renaissance is still going strong, y'all.

Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron reunite in Netflix’s most recent rom-com, A Family Affair, with The Act‘s Joey King playing Zara, the daughter to Kidman’s widowed writer Brooke and the personal assistant to Efron’s action movie star Chris Cole.

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A Family Affair is far from revolutionary filmmaking but it is a near-perfect sample of its genre. It’s ballsy and funny without being over the top, and it’s got an unexpected fire burning behind each of its characters. The plot is reminiscent of another recent, fairly solid rom-com from a rival streamer — Prime Video’s The Idea of You with Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine — but where that movie amps up the romance side of things, A Family Affair goes the opposite route, with some genuine hilarity throughout.

Much like Hathaway’s character, Kidman’s Brooke is also bouncing back from a complicated ending to a long-term relationship and grappling with singlehood in her 40s. Similarly, much like Galitzine’s pop star romantic interest, Efron is the famous, younger man who brings adventure and excitement back into her life. The character of the daughter gains prominence in A Family Affair, with King’s Zara being the driving force for most of the conflict in the film.

Joey King and Liza Koshy in 'A Family Affair'.
Image via Netflix

We’re instantly introduced to Efron’s Chris Cole as one of the most famous movie stars on Earth, covering every major magazine and participating in internet staples like FirstWeFeast’s Hot Ones and Wired’s Autocomplete Interview. The film’s experienced mid-budget hit director Richard LaGravenese (Freedom Writers, P.S. I Love You) employs archive footage of Efron on red carpets and events in this opening montage, immediately blurring the lines between the real-life superstar and the mega-movie star he’s playing on screen, and, in doing so, adds these fascinating meta-layers to the film that feel almost out of place considering how light-hearted A Family Affair is really meant to be.

Through Efron’s spot-on performance, we slowly realize that Chris struggles with his public image and is frustrated by the path his career has wound up taking. He’s most famous for playing a terrorist-killing superhero/action star-type character in a mega-franchise that has contractually tied him down for years, held him to insane physical fitness standards, and whose story has evolved in such ludicrous self-feeding ways that an entire subplot of A Family Affair is dedicated to Chris and Zara bashing its script and scrambling to find a writer who will overhaul the whole thing.

Joey King and Zac Efron in 'A Family Affair'.
Image via Netflix

The references to the real-life state of affairs in the American film industry are in-your-face obvious and never try to be anything else, but what’s fascinating is seeing Efron, a man of rare physical beauty who has been frequently typecast as The Hot One and limited to a certain type of Hollywood fanfare roles, play this character and say these words, especially after the masterclass in acting that he delivered in 2023’s The Iron Claw. The fourth wall breaks even further during a scene where Kidman and Efron, two stars whose physical appearances have visibly changed over the years, discuss plastic surgery, and the latter mentions a jaw surgery derived from an on-set fall, closely and seemingly intentionally mirroring the real actor’s own severe accident in his home in 2013.

We also learn that Chris has lost family members and grown apart from his remaining relatives, which then led him to move to L.A. where he didn’t know anyone. After he became famous, he says, suddenly everyone knew him, but that didn’t change the fact that he had no real friends. Zara is the closest thing he has to a friend, and her mom Brooke soon becomes the companion he has been looking for for years. Still, before we come to understand all his struggles, we meet him only as a horrible boss to his personal assistant, to whom he constantly makes absurd requests, whom he threatens to fire every time she can’t fulfill them, and whose promises of a possible future production job he never fulfills. Oh, and he’s also a massive womanizer who treats his girlfriends like disposable trash. It’s easy to understand why Zara wants him nowhere near her mom. And, besides, your mom dating your boss is never a good idea.

Nicole Kidman, Joey King, and Zac Efron in 'A Family Affair'.
Image via Netflix

On the other side of the coin, Brooke is struggling with writer’s block stemming from a stale romantic and personal life, all while experiencing complicated feelings of grief over her husband’s untimely death. Her biggest confidant is her editor and mother-in-law Leila, played by a brilliant and poised scene-stealing Kathy Bates. Zara still lives at home with her, but as with any young adult, communication is tricky between the two. Any comment Brooke makes is taken personally by her daughter, who is extremely self-conscious about the lackluster start to her career in the film industry.

The surprisingly introspective writing and character design in A Family Affair makes it easy to relate, empathize, and root for all three characters, even though their stories are framed by experiences so distant from those of the average Joe and plain Jane. This emotional connection is fundamental in a successful comedy and yet so often overlooked in favor of loud, flamboyant performances.

Nicole Kidman, Joey King, and Kathy Bates in 'A Family Affair'.
Image via Netflix

Even more surprising is the way the romantic storyline ends up paling in comparison to the individual character work. Rom-coms usually put most of their eggs in the romance basket, making their triumph dependent on the chemistry of its leading pair. In The Idea of You, Hathaway and Galitzine’s sizzling chemistry is a great cover-up for some of the blemishes in the film’s underdeveloped story; in A Family Affair, however, Kidman and Efron, who had previously played lovers in 2012’s The Paperboy, primarily exude best-friend energy even when they’re tearing each other’s clothes off. And while that is arguably this film’s weaker element, LaGravenese and breakout writer, Carrie Solomon were sagacious enough to buff up every other aspect of the film so that the full product was barely affected by the lack of sexual tension between its romantic leads.

Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron in 'A Family Affair'.
Image via Netflix

Kidman and King are magnetic as mother and daughter, and a later scene where the younger woman apologizes to her mom for not seeing her as her own woman is a highlight in the film. Similarly, Efron and King are the comedic heart of A Family Affair, their improv-rich screaming matches effortlessly producing belly laughs — seeing as the film has its fair share of hilariously memorable one-liners, one wonders whether they are Solomon’s work or her stars’. The individual character growth is equally as satisfying and frankly superior to the level the genre has treated us to in recent years. There are no frustrating senseless decisions for dramatics’ sake and, although their journeys all follow formulaic frameworks of ups and downs, LaGravenese’s experience in the genre and Solomon’s greener yet innate understanding of it shine at every turn.

In short, A Family Affair might seem like more of the same empty goofiness from the outside, but once you watch it, it doesn’t take long to see why A-listers like Kidman and Efron would take on this unassuming Netflix rom-com.

A Family Affair
Kidman, Efron, and King are effortlessly funny and charming in this surprisingly sturdy rom-com.

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Francisca Tinoco
Francisca is a pop culture enthusiast and film expert. Her Bachelor's Degree in Communication Sciences from Nova University in Portugal and Master's Degree in Film Studies from Oxford Brookes University in the UK have allowed her to combine her love for writing with her love for the movies. She has been a freelance writer and content creator for five years, working in both the English and Portuguese languages for various platforms, including WGTC.