As if one movie starring Russell Crowe (THE NICE GUYS) gracing our cinema screens isn’t enough, along comes another one — the very saccharine FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS.
In this film, Crowe plays Jake Davis, a Pulitzer prize-winning novelist who finds himself struggling with depression and debilitating tremors after losing his wife in a car accident. Left alone to care for their 5-year-old daughter Katie (a wonderful Kylie Rogers), Jake soon realizes that he can’t cope with life. He decides to check himself into a mental hospital, leaving his “Potato Chip” in the care of his bitchy, alcohol-loving, sister-in-law Elizabeth, and her dull-as-dishwater, husband William (played by Diane Kruger and Bruce Greenwood, respectively), who, Bill tells Jake, “have more money than God”, as if he didn’t already know. Boozy Betty hasn’t forgiven Jake for possibly killing her beloved sister due to his recklessness so the opportunity to take the cute-as-a-button child away from her loving dad is the sweet justice she feels eluded her a year earlier.
Fast forward to 2014, young Katie is now in her early 30s (and now played by Amanda Seyfried; WHILE WE’RE YOUNG) and is a university student doing a doctorate in psychology. She’s also recklessly promiscuous, picking up guys for quick bonks wherever she can find them. It seems she can’t form, or doesn’t want to form, lasting attachments to men because of the trauma she incurred as a child. In true melodramatic style, she came to that aha moment in a “physician, heal thyself” session on her therapist’s couch. But all that suddenly changes when she meets Cameron (Aaron Paul; EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS), a struggling writer whose favourite book just happens to be Jake’s second opus, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS. Katie seems to be turning a corner in life when she’s thrown a curve ball at the social services agency where she works. She’s been given a case that reminds her of her own troubled past. Lucy (Best Actress Oscar® nominee Quvenzhané Wallis, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD) is a young girl from “the projects” who, like Katie, witnessed her mother’s death. So traumatized the girl is though, she’s stopped speaking. Katie is given a week (which somehow stretches into a month) to get the kid talking again.
The film then alternates between the early 1990s, when Jake is out of the loony bin and is reunited with young Katie, and the present day. In the past, Jake’s tremors are only getting stronger and more frequent, and the rich in-laws are lying in wait for the moment when they can pounce again. In the present, Katie struggles with both her personal and her professional relationships. And so it goes for the next hour until all is revealed, both then and now.
There is so much that’s bad with this film. Let’s start with the screenplay, which is riddled with clichés, platitudes and stereotypes. From the psychologist who can fix everyone except herself, to the acclaimed writer who takes story ideas from his wise-beyond-her-years 7-year-old daughter, to the boyfriend wannabe novelist who never seems to be writing (or doing anything else, for that matter), to the evil sister-in-law who looks like she’s just stepped off the set of the TV show DYNASTY, there is more cheese to be found here than on a dairy farm in Switzerland. Then there is the issue of leaving your beloved child with the two people who hate you the most. Really? There was no one else you could trust? Finally, there’s the music, which can’t get more cloying — a cover version of The Carpenters’ “Close To You” (were the licensing rights to the original too expensive?), which is used as a plot device to take Katie back to a happier time in her life, and a closing credits ballad sung by none other than ’80s crooner, Michael Bolton. Kill. Me. Now.
Russell Crowe, too, is a complete disappointment, yet again. He needs to find a new agent because he has not had a good role to play since A BEAUTIFUL MIND, and that was 15 years ago. (Read my reviews of NOAH and THE WATER DIVINER.) For someone who is apparently struggling with both mental health and physical health issues, we don’t see it until Jake is either in a toilet or closet somewhere having a seizure (which he does well, by the way). The rest of the time, he’s the ideal father, taking Katie to school in the morning and picking her up again in the afternoon, reading books to her, teaching her how to ride a bike or helping her colour pictures. It just struck me that we never see him buying groceries, doing the laundry or anything else the rest of us mere mortals have to deal with on a regular basis.
For Italian director Gabriele Muccino, sentimentality is nothing new. He previously directed Will Smith in two films — THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS and SEVEN POUNDS, the former of which also deals with a down-on-his-luck, single dad who lives to shield his child from life’s problems. The shlock is all too much this time around and the grand message that you need to come to terms with the past in order to move forward into the future should come with a warning label. It may cause one’s eyes to roll to the back of one’s head.
FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS is a clunker. Give it a huge miss.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 34:45.)
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