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Photo credit: Tinga Rowden / Netflix

Acting Up: Joey King’s Acting Evolution Comes Full Circle in Netflix’s ‘A Family Affair’

The Snapshot

In A Family Affair, Joey King is Zara, the harried and frustrated assistant to Chris Cole (Zac Efron), one of the biggest movie stars in the world. When Chris meets and falls for Zara’s widowed single mom Brooke (Nicole Kidman), Zara does everything she can to sabotage the new romance.

(A Family Affair is currently available to stream on Netflix.)

The Performance

Zara Ford seems to have it pretty good for a 24-year-old in Hollywood. She’s working for a huge movie star, and even if he’s an insecure mess who needs her to run his life for him, she knows there are bigger things in store for her. If she can just get him to focus, she’ll soon become his producing partner. That would make all the crazy stuff he asks her to do — like buy him the diamond earrings he uses as a breakup gift whenever he’s splitting with a girlfriend — worthwhile.

However, Chris is in no rush, and he’s so dependent on Zara that he can’t imagine elevating her to the position she desires. This gets more complicated when she quits on him. When he swings by her house to try to convince her to come back, he meets her mother, Brooke, who is lonely and still mourning the loss of Zara’s dad, 13 years earlier. A chat turns into an afternoon drink or two. One thing leads to another, Zara returns home to find her mom and her boss in flagrante delicto, and all hell breaks loose, relatively speaking.

Thus begins the standard romantic comedy trope of a cute and budding romance having obstacles it needs to overcome to survive. This movie is no different, but what makes it worthwhile is the unending skill and charm of the three leads. Kidman and Efron make it look effortless, which is standard for them. The revelation here, is King.

Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron and Joey King arguing. Photo credit: Tinga Rowden / Netflix

You’ve seen Joey King before. She was a child actress who first showed up on the screen at the age of six in a couple of episodes of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, and grew up before our eyes. Although the number is pretty small, some child actors turn into accomplished adult thespians and King has grown into someone formidable who can fill the screen in a way that so many of her former costars cannot.

What’s especially interesting about Zara is that she is selfish and immature, but there’s still something magnetic about her. We’re empathic towards her even when she appears to be working against her mother’s happiness. That’s because we like King, and we can’t help but be with Zara even when we don’t necessarily want to be. And while her logic is flawed, it’s okay because she knows Chris better than anyone. He knows that he’s going to inevitably hurt Brooke, and Zara is the one to protect her.

But the thing about that is, when you’re so focused on what’s directly in front of you, you lose sight of everything else. That is the thing of which Zara is most guilty. Zara, in reality, is kind of a jerk, in that she doesn’t see what’s happening between Chris and her mom, especially considering how she misses her best friend’s life falling apart, because she’s so wrapped up in her drama.

It’s that moment when Zara realizes what a schmuck she’s been, that we understand why we’re here. The number of emotions that pass over King’s face when she is confronted with her selfishness and lack of empathy is the most emotional scene in a movie that has plenty of them. From then on, she pretty much carries the film, even though she’s playing opposite two of the biggest stars in the world.

If you had any doubts about King’s future as a performer to watch, this should have crushed them. In that moment, she showed what she’s learned over a lifetime of acting. She can do so much without uttering a word, and do it without being over the top.

This is not Joey King’s first adult role. It most certainly is her finest one, though one would imagine that won’t be true for long.

Joey King and Zac Efron arguing inside. Photo credit: Tinga Rowden / Netflix

The Career

From those first appearances on the Disney Channel to a career that saw her take on roles ranging from tween to teen to adulthood, we’ve watched Joey King grow as an actress. She was always quite good. She would have had to be to sustain a career, even as a child, but that doesn’t always translate as an actor gets older.

The charm she showcased in roles like Ramona Quincy in Ramona and Beezus when she was 10 was on display three years later when she played Channing Tatum’s daughter in White House Down, and then five years after that, when she starred in the first of the Kissing Booth trilogy, the role that allowed her to transition into older parts. She has played an action hero in The Princess, an assassin in Bullet Train and a Holocaust survivor in We Were the Lucky Ones.

However, there have been two roles that established her bona fides as an adult, allowing her to play those aforementioned parts. The first was Kayla in The Lie, an Amazon Original movie in which she played a teen with a devastating, destructive secret. The range she shows in that film is stunning and serves as notice that she wasn’t messing around. This was a talented young woman.

The other was Gypsy Rose Blanchard in the Hulu miniseries The Act, in which she is an overprotective teen trying to escape a toxic relationship with her mother, played by Patricia Arquette. That role won the actress her first Emmy nomination and confirmed that The Lie was no fluke. Everything that has come after is a direct result of her winning performances in those two projects.

Now, with A Family Affair on her resume, there is no telling how far she can go. It will be a great deal of fun to keep watching.

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