‘A Family Affair’ Review: Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman Become Netflix Royalty in a Classic White Wine Rom-Com

This all very well could be a fever dream, or a slightly buzzed hallucination. Such are the thoughts that pass as the white wine is uncorked — let’s be real, it’s a twist-off — and “A Family Affair” opens with real-life Zac Efron red carpet footage of the actor at TIFF. But this isn’t TMZ, this is a scripted Netflix rom-com. And we love it.

Directed by “Beautiful Creatures” helmer Richard LaGravenese from a script by Carrie Solomon, “A Family Affair” reunites Efron with his “The Paper Boy” co-star Nicole Kidman, and adds in beloved everywoman Joey King to make a different kind of unconventional love triangle. Both Efron and King’s characters just want Kidman to be a supportive mother type: One as her actual mom, and the other as a MILF.

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King plays Zara, the 24-year-old daughter of Kidman’s famous novelist character Brooke. While Zara wants to be a Hollywood agent, she’s quite literally stuck in rush hour traffic most of the time while catering to her A-list actor boss Chris Cole’s (Efron) every whim. It’s Zara who brings the jewelry Chris forgot for his break-up date, a signature move where he gifts his love interest a pair of earrings — and not the engagement ring they expect — before kicking them to the curb.

Chris is a heartbreaker, and therefore Zara’s shock at discovering Chris and her own mother getting it on is quite understandable. There are no games here: Chris is well-aware of the fact that Brooke is Zara’s mom, and Zara learns early on that Chris is determined on wooing her parent. And that lack of real conflict, other than Zara worrying that Chris will inevitably gift Brooke her own set of goodbye earrings, is where “A Family Affair” falters.

‘A Family Affair’
‘A Family Affair’

King doesn’t quite unleash her full acting ability, which audiences gleaned from her harrowing portrayal of Gypsy Rose Blanchard in Emmy-winning “The Act,” and her character Zara feels like she’s in a different film. “A Family Affair” can’t decide whether to be a coming-of-age story with Zara at the center, or a tale of a middle-aged woman reclaiming herself after being a single parent. While the attempt at bridging the generational divide in theory makes for a loftier plot, “A Family Affair” is lacking the nuance to do either well. And so, despite King’s inherent charm, it’s her storyline that falls flat. It is difficult to be pitted up against Kidman and Efron, after all.

Efron’s Chris is the ideal mix of action hero star and sensitive man-child, a perfect blend for Brooke to mother. Chris is most famous for his “Icarus Rush” franchise, which even leads him to a stop on viral talk show “Hot Ones.” Yet after starring in “Icarus” films as the titular character for years, Chris has no idea who Icarus even is. Brooke wows him with her knowledge of basic mythology. Their relationship is as banal as Brooke simply knowing more than him. The couple frolic in a backlot set and even have a “Big Fat Liar”-esque dress up scene that gives way to Chris giving a monologue about finding fame as a teenager. Efron’s Chris seems to be a meta-commentary on his own career about typecasting, being in the industry for most of his life, and more. It even gives us Efron singing along to Cher’s “Do You Believe in Love After Love,” a moment which should rival Kidman’s AMC ads for breaking the internet.

‘A Family Affair’
‘A Family Affair’

“A Family Affair” truly is Efron’s film, for better and worse at times. And the feature does slot right in with the recent trend of age gap romances. There definitely is something is in the air for widows and divorcées finding love again, just as Efron and Cher belt out. Yet “A Family Affair” doesn’t really stand up against even “The Idea of You” (which has already become a rom-com classic of sorts), nor does it ever feel scandalous enough to merit comparison to the likes of “May December” or Catherine Breillat’s “Last Summer.” The plot here is a little too convenient for any such prurience, but it will no doubt still resonant with audiences of a certain age, given the fact that both Kidman and Efron are older than their “The Idea of You” counterparts too. It doesn’t hurt that Kathy Bates is cast as Kidman’s book editor mother-in-law, a sly nod to her iconic turn in “Misery.”

And while the Academy Award chances of “A Family Affair” are definitively zero, it’s still a lovely reminder just how much the rom-com world has missed would-be Oscar nominee Zac Efron — because let’s face it, “The Iron Claw” was robbed during the 2023 awards season. With “A Family Affair,” Efron picks up where “17 Again” left off, and it’s a delight to see this former teen heartthrob back in a similar mode. Whatever the streamer’s faults, Netflix has a knack for helping beloved actors return to their former glory, and Efron makes the most of his time to shine.

Rating: B-

“A Family Affair” will be available to stream on Netflix starting Friday, June 28.

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