In the Netflix dramedy Family Secrets, also known by its original Polish title Gry Rodzinne (Family Games), a young couple’s wedding day plays out over eight episodes full of flashbacks, family dramas, intermingling romantic affairs, and internecine friendship warfare. Will Katarzyna ever make it to the altar to marry Janek? And if that’s not his baby she’s carrying, whose is it?
FAMILY SECRETS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: A woman in full wedding regalia is running through a busy downtown pedestrian area, distracted and alone. She loses and reclaims a gossamer veil. She’s also pregnant.
The Gist: That intersection Katarzyna, (Eliza Rycembel), also known as Kaska, was running to? It marks the spot where, five years before this wedding day of hers, she met Pawel (Piotr Pacek) on the day she got into medical school. In prime romantic comedy fashion he saved her from being creamed by a tram, they danced like loons to the Scissor Sisters, and stared into each other’s eyes before laughing it off as chance. But Pawel’s nowhere to be found today, everyone’s looking at her in her wedding dress, and her sister Alicja (Malgorzata Mikolajczak) is pleading with her to get a grip. Kaska definitely isn’t glowing like a bride.
In another flashback, it’s seven months before the wedding. Kaska, crying, is on the street after her mother Malgosia (Izabela Kuna) kicked her out, but Alicja’s glad to take her in. She’s also vomiting somewhat uncontrollably. The next day, Kaska attends a cranial dissection lecture conducted by Dorota (Edyta Olszowka), whose husband Emil (Pawel Delag) operates a cosmetic surgery clinic with their son Janek (Bartosz Gelner) – people who we’ve already seen in the present, waiting in the church for Kaska to show.
Janek is a surgeon at his father’s clinic, but the two spend more time bickering than they do rhinoplastying. “You have to control your lust, dad,” he spits. “You’re married,” and who does Janek encounter in Emil’s office but Malgosia. Not only that, but the older doctor is seen outside the clinic, seeming to comfort a frantic Kaska. The connections between these two families are being steadily revealed in flashback form, but there’s still plenty of mystery about exactly what’s going on. Figure in a few ancillary characters – Alicja’s rich boyfriend, who’s also Janek’s BFF, Janek’s model ex-girlfriend, who Alicja works for as a makeup artist, and Dawid, everyone’s friend who moonlights as a drag queen – and there’s a lot to unpack as we rejoin Kaska in the present. She’s finally agreed to be taken to the church. But she’s no closer to marrying Janek.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Netflix also features Holiday Secrets, a German limited series that probes its family dynamics through the prism of the Christmas season. And Peacock includes both seasons of the terrific Irish drama Smother, about the matriarch of a County Clare family, her evolving relationships with each of her daughters, and the lengths she’ll go to protect them from – wait for it – a family secret.
Our Take: In addition to its flashback-happy format, Family Secrets utilizes the type of handheld cameras, verite close-ups, and sudden zoom outs that have been popularized through shows like Arrested Development and Modern Family. It’s a purposeful aesthetic touch that adds immediate gravity to the plot, which evolves elliptically as it’s informed by various perspectives. In the present, in the church on Kaska and Janek’s wedding day, we’re immediately engrossed in the barbs and straight up verbal roundhouses getting tossed between Dorota and Emil – husband and wife who have each been unfaithful – in the front row, even as we see Janek fretting out by the main entrance, and the guests shifting sweatily and impatiently in their pews. Not only that, but suddenly Dorota and Emil are engaged in an argument with the nun singing religious hymns as cover for the ceremony’s delay. In the multiple scenarios occurring simultaneously in Family Secrets, there’s even drama with the clergy, and the shifty cameras and timelines catch it all.
Sex and Skin: Nothing in the first episode, but there’s lots of talk about affairs both had and having, and romantic partners old and new.
Parting Shot: Kaska, having finally arrived with Alicja at the church, joins Janek. But she only makes it halfway up the aisle before hesitating again, halting, turning this way and that, and finally heading back out the way she came.
Sleeper Star: In the early going it’s Edyta Olszowka who makes the biggest impression as Dorota, a woman blending the icy unease of her relationship with a philandering husband with the fallout from her own extramarital activity, the demands of her professional life at the medical school, and her attempts to keep up appearances as a wealthy family supposedly free of dysfunction. And while we don’t see much of him in the first episode of Family Secrets, look for Piotr Pacek (Sexify) to make a splash as Pawel as this show’s dramas unfold.
Most Pilot-y Line: “How about we end this farce,” Emil grumbles to Dorota. “She’s not coming.” It’s abundantly clear that it’d be most convenient for Emil if Kaska called it off. But Dorota isn’t letting him off the hook that easily. “You think you know her so well, but you don’t. You can have sex with someone for 30 years and know nothing about them.”
Our Call: STREAM IT. Family Secrets feels very contemporary with its narrative switchbacks and various tiers of love life damage. It’ll be interesting to see who’s with who and what has finally been said out loud once this wedding day ends eight episodes from now.
Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges
The post Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Family Secrets’ on Netflix, Where Fibs, Dramas, And Deceptions Mar A Young Woman’s Wedding Day appeared first on Decider.