There is some truth to the statement, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall,” even in film. Sadly, even Jim Gaffigan can’t save the show in Miranda Bailey’s “You Can Choose Your Family. Although Gaffigan shines on stage, his performance in the film is lackluster, mainly suffering from poor writing by Glen Lakin.
In 1992, Frank (Gaffigan) somehow manages to have two families through the conceit of business trips to Japan for the family ketchup factory. All of his lies, contrivance and plotting falls to bits when his son, Philip (Logan Miller) discovers his father’s other family in a lakeside town just a short drive away from his own home.
The story behind “You Can Choose Your Family” begins to fall apart immediately after it is mentioned Frank owns a ketchup factory, and becomes even less believable once the stringent controls he has over the lives of his children become apparent. Gaffigan, as Frank, clutches at straws in order to hide his families from each other. Somehow, he comes to the conclusion his visits between families can only be hidden by the facade of business trips to Japan. The lack of internet may be the only reason this plot manages to be even remotely believable. Realistically, no one needs to spend weeks at a time in Japan on business for ketchup. Not even in the 90s.
This isn’t to say Gaffigan did not make a valiant effort to save the film. At every turn, he is constantly pulling hilarious one-liners out of thin air. But when it comes to interactions with both families, his performance is lackluster at best, disappointing at worst. Gaffigan’s performance is extremely surprising, as he is the epitome of “daddishness.” His jokes are dad jokes, he looks like every other father on the street. The fact he can’t carry his role effectively can’t be completely blamed on him. Bailey and Lakin haven’t exactly given him much to work with.
Gaffigan is hilarious, a perfect choice for a funny, loving father figure. However, Lakin and Bailey have created a character who is unreasonably harsh with his children of one family while being lax in the extreme with the other. It is clear what Lakin and Bailey are trying to achieve in this deep contrast, but they need a different actor, or they need to rewrite his character.
Funny in certain places but dull in others, “You Can Choose Your Family” is not the worst film to watch. For those seeking a cheesy 90s-themed film, this will do just fine. For those seeking a well-written film of a bit more substance, this film may not be your best choice.
“You Can Choose Your Family”
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Score: 1.5 / 5 Stars