Film Review – Father Figures
In the 21st Century there is probably no more influential figure in mainstream Hollywood film comedy than Judd Apatow. While he didn’t invent character based comedy, he definitely proved that it could be popular and make money. For a long time big screen comedy was usually based around some sort of over the top “wacky” premise that was more about stringing gags together than creating characters. But when The 40 Year Old Virgin was a massive hit, it showed that comedy based out of situations could mean big box office.
Unfortunately, this style became both a blessing and a curse. On the plus side, it is a welcome development to have comedy arise out of characters. It means we care about them and can create a lasting resonance. The downside though is this kind of loose filmmaking which encourages semi-improvised dialogue and a willingness to indulge in scenes that don’t have to propel the plot, if done badly, can lead to a seriously long comedies that just sag. Look, a lot of what Apatow has done is really funny. But man-o-man can his films sometimes drag. Funny has a rhythm. The best comedy has a thrust. “Louder, faster, funnier” is an old adage. This modern style of film often resists that, but not always to good effect. And subsequently there are many who follow in Apatow’s footsteps who do an even worse job of fighting this comedy bloat. It is this sin of which the new film Father Figures is the most guilty.
Ed Helms and Owen Wilson star as twin brothers. Helms is a divorced Proctologist with a young son who dislikes him while leading a life that is lonely and depressing. Wilson is a flighty free-spirit living who has made an accidental fortune as the model for a popular BBQ sauce label. The two of them reunite after being estranged for a few years at their mother’s wedding. Glenn Close plays their Mom who is getting married late in life, and both of her sons are supportive. The boys have always believed the story they were told that their Father died when they were young. However, after the wedding, Close reveals to them that she had been lying all these years and during her freewheeling days at Studio 54 in the 1970s she had hooked up with their Dad. Helms believes that his crappy life can be blamed on his lack of a male role model growing up. So the two brothers start a road trip to find out who is their real father.
Admirably, some of the comedy here is low key. They are a mismatched pair of brothers who react somewhat realistically. Their journey takes them to several States and searching through several potential prospects. The cast assembled is much better than the material they are given. Along the way they deal with Terry Bradshaw, Ving Rhames, J.K. Simmons, Harry Shearer, June Squibb, Retta, Katt Williams, Ali Wong and Christopher Walken. All of those actors are professionals who strike an instant likability factor. Unfortunately, they are all given so little to do that it is almost criminal. For instance, Shearer is the one marrying their Mom. He speaks maybe 6 words in the whole movie. Or Walken’s main purpose seems to be just to show up. He appears, doesn’t do much, and that’s it. The whole joke with him is that he’s in the movie.
There are reasonably okay ideas for jokes. But they are either repeated too often so that even the slowest audience member can follow along or are peppered so sparsely that you find long pauses while you are waiting for the next mild laugh. There is a great deal made of their Mom’s promiscuous younger days. Each of their prospective Dad’s has a graphic sex story to relay regarding how good she was in bed. It’s a funny idea for some awkward laughs, but it is repeated a few times too much so that the shock value disappears. Another is how Katt Williams plays a hitchhiker they pick up who is surprisingly gregarious and sincere. He allows the brothers to tie him up in the back seat to allay their fears of giving a ride to a stranger and the entire time he is remarkably affable. But his character ends up so underwritten that his politeness is really his only trait. It’s a funny idea, but it doesn’t go anywhere.
The main issue as stated before is this movie is just too long. This movie is directed by Lawrence Sher who has the equally lackluster Office Christmas Party under his belt. That film suffered from the same bloat. Again, this movie is a spiritual cousin to those Apatow movies. But look at that guy’s track record. Knocked Up, while very funny, is over 2 hours. No comedy should be over 2 hours. Or look at Trainwreck. That was a very good movie that could have been a great movie if it had just been tightened up. I liken it to a shoe whose laces haven’t been tied. If you cinched up those laces and tied it properly it would fit. Look at a couple of other great modern comedies for examples, like Forgetting Sarah Marshall or I Love You, Man. In the case of this movie, I could easily cut a half hour out of this and make it better. Though for Father Figures it would take a semi-mediocre movie and make it merely a good movie. As it is, in it’s current state, it is a slack comedy that mostly wastes it’s talented cast.