So… Kelsey Grammer remains highly watchable. There is that.
Like Father is a pretty much unobjectionable dramedy about a thirtyish career-obsessed woman named Rachel (Kristin Bell) who gets jilted at the altar after alienating her fiancé by hiding her cell phone in her bouquet, and whose estranged dad (Grammer) unexpectedly shows up and ends up accompanying her on her honeymoon cruise to the Caribbean, where reconciliation and personal growth hijinks ensue.
You know the saw about Anton Chekhov’s “gun on the mantelpiece,” where if you make a point of saying there is a gun sitting on that thing in Act I, it had better go off by Act III? There’s a corollary. If you point out the gun and immediately pick it up, fire it into the air, empty the magazine, throw the gun away and leave, that is also not dramatically satisfying. We don’t just care about a bullet coming out of the gun. We care about the tension of knowing the gun’s sitting on the mantelpiece and being left to try and suss out who’s going to aim it at whom and when and why. Like Father does not care about this principle. If there’s a gun on the mantelpiece it’s going to have to be fired instantly. Also, it is probably a squirt gun.
This film is occasionally funny. But not super-funny. It’s occasionally poignant. But not a heavyweight on the drama side, either. Times I was surprised by a plot point? Zero. Times a character did something I really didn’t see coming? Zero. Times I was impressed with the artistry of a specific shot? Two, and one of them really owed it to a gorgeous piece of scenery you’d have to work pretty hard to make boring. Acting performances range from competent (Bell) to competent-plus (Grammer), but most of the characters really don’t have a ton to work with (Rachel’s Greek chorus of fellow “honeymooners,” with whom she and estranged-dad are seated for meals, are honestly the funniest thing about the film, and they are an almost preposterously focus group-selected gallery of stereotypes: Smoochy, self-help-forward gay couple from San Francisco, check! Awww-that’s-sweet senior citizens with a spicy side, check! Nerdy Midwestern black couple, check! And they are all deeply and sincerely and instantly concerned about Rachel’s emotional health and grating addiction to her smartphone.) The writing isn’t specifically bad, but it also isn’t specifically interesting, intriguing, emotionally powerful, or hilarious. It’s not offensive. But it’s so predictable that, well: Times I wondered why this was a project Lauren Miller felt compelled to write and direct? Numerous!
I mean, look: If you mega-love Kristen Bell and don’t find her one teensy bit bland, prefer bread with the crust cut off, hesitate to eat anything that isn’t plain buttered pasta, intensely dislike surprises, and think there just aren’t enough utterly unremarkable films about phone-addicted corporate branding firm employees reconnecting with estranged parents, and you don’t appreciate it when the stakes get high in a story, this might be just the film for you. It’s by no means incompetent.
It’s just almost pathologically basic.
Like Father premieres Friday, August 3 on Netflix.
Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.