Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
There’s not one of us who can say we weren’t screwed up by our parents in some way, shape or form. You’re lying to yourself if you say you weren’t. There are, of course, varying degrees of betrayal as that’s what makes the parent-child dynamic complex and filled with many gray areas. The thing that unites our struggles is the understanding that erring is human. We’re fallible.
This year we’ve seen a revived cinematic trend featuring father-daughter relationships. ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, HEARTS BEAT LOUD and LEAVE NO TRACE spotlit loving, supportive relationships. Director and co-writer Lauren Miller Rogen’s LIKE FATHER showcases a different kind of daddy-daughter dynamic. It’s a sensitive, sweet tale of redemption and forgiveness that’s never trite or cloying.
Advertising exec Rachel Hamilton (Kristen Bell) is a workaholic. She cares more about her clients than she does those who are close to her. This metaphorical shield she’s wielded throughout much of her life has led her long-suffering fiancé Owen (Jon Foster) to impose strict rules on their wedding day. But when she tests those rules before they say their vows, he jilts her at the altar. Matters are made worse when Rachel’s long-estranged father, Harry (Kelsey Grammer), shows up on her big day only to see her humiliated. Wanting to make amends, dear ‘ol Dad gets her drunk and, in an inebriated state, their carousing leads to cruising — boarding Rachel’s previously-scheduled honeymoon cruise. The pair are forced to confront their long buried feelings whilst out at sea. Hijinks and healing ensue.
Though the premise hints this could turn into a cutesy, quirk comedy, Miller Rogen’s film eschews sap, schmaltz and saccharine, valuing a more humanistic, realistic approach to capturing a strained relationship. It radiates on the same bandwith as TONI ERDMANN in that regard. There are lots of funny moments that indeed earn laughs, but the pacing and editing suggest this errs on the side of dramedy. While it has the trappings of an “odd couple” story, and the “you lied to me” moment of trope-filled romcoms, the way it plays out is authentic to the raw honesty of the characters’ newfound connection. Emotions feel palpable, even overlapping as if mapped out on a Venn diagram – embarrassment, anger, pain, anxiety and mistrust for her; sadness, loneliness, inadequacy, regret and guilt for him. Miller Rogen has written rich material for her leads, who both are absolutely terrific at portraying the nuanced undertones.
Set pieces like the Gigantic Game Show where the pair test their skills and the karaoke contest have a good energy, showing the duo establishing a stronger foundation. Even the montage, which serves as a commercial for Royal Caribbean, is character-driven. The soundtrack isn’t comprised of poppy top-40 hits, nor rising Spotify superstars, but instead classics like The Supremes’ “Come See About Me,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Going Back Again” and Pete Townshend’s cover of “Save It For Later,” all of which act as the characters’ inner voices. It’s an unexpected, radical and disarming choice given it could be mistaken for on-the-nose needle drops.
The narrative gets a little in the weeds whenever it includes Rachel and Harry’s assigned tablemates – longtime marrieds Shirley (Mary Looram) and Leonard (Anthony Laciura), and second timers Dan (Leonard Ouzts) and Beth (Blaire Brooks). None of them really propel situations in any impactful way. The group is there mainly to react awkwardly to their bickering, or Rachel’s rude cell phone habits, or the snowballing shenanigans. The gay couple, Steven (Zach Appelman) and Jim (Paul W. Downs), are given a little more to do, but still aren’t incorporated effortlessly. That said, the one standout supporting character is Rachel’s fellow passenger/ one night stand Jeff (played by Miller-Rogen’s real-life husband, Seth Rogen). His character experiences a very thoughtful, enlightened and complete story arc in the span of this cruise.
Despite being a smidge too long, LIKE FATHER delivers a mature look at the scars we bear as adults caused by the emotional damage from our parents – intentionally or not.
LIKE FATHER is available to stream on Netflix on August 3.