Film Review | Like Father

A reluctant father-daughter bonding exercise underpins Lauren Miller Rogen’s debut feature, a Netflix exclusive that should have been so more given the raw talent in its stable • 2/5 

Like Father
Like Father

Comparisons are odious, but humans are trained by evolution to spot patterns so they can’t be helped. The hot film of Euro-cinema circuit in 2016 happened to be Toni Erdmann (dir. Maren Ade), a subtly hilarious and deeply touching German-Austrian comedy about an aging hippie father (Peter Simonischek) disrupting the life of his workaholic daughter (Sandra Hüller) in a clumsy attempt at re-connection and reconciliation. It won a boatload of awards and snowballed into glowing worldwide critical acclaim, though perhaps the loudest and crudest signpost of its barrier-breaking success was confirmed when it was slotted in for an American remake – with Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig set to star.

But father-daughter narratives are hardly a narrow storytelling furrow, and this year, Netflix have taken it upon themselves to craft yet another of their ‘Exclusives’ precisely on that theme.

That Like Father – a directorial debut for Lauren Miller Rogen – flounders in comparison to Toni Erdmann becomes clear enough minutes into its running time. But that’s not to say that this undemanding piece of streaming fodder is entirely without its merits, especially during the brain-melting, sweltering days of late summer.

Rachel (Kristen Bell) is a go-getting workaholic marketing executive who is rarely seen without a smartphone attached to her ear, especially when her company is on the verge of signing a coveted contract with an organic crisps company. But everyone believes that she would do well to slow down, including her boss, the laid-back Frank (Brett Gelman) who is also officiating at Rachel’s wedding to Owen (Jon Foster). While Rachel’s estranged father Harry (Kelsey Grammer) sneaks into the ceremony in hopes of reconnecting with his daughter after a 25-year absence from her life, Owen decides that a smartphone-related mishap is one workaholic step too far, and abandons Rachel on the altar.

Keen to console a devastated and hostile daughter, Harry insists on taking Rachel out for “just one drink” – a promise that is not heeded by either, who find themselves aboard the honeymoon cruise to the Caribbean that Owen had booked.

If that sounds like a generic mix-up of circumstances to concoct a pleasant and heart-warming, almost-tear-jerker of a bonding comedy, that’s because it is. Of course, Rachel is none too happy to have her dad along with her on this trip, simmering in her resentment of his abandonment and itching to just get back to work to escape from her grief at being ditched at the altar. Add the contrived-as-heck trope of Rachel and Harry being lumped with three pairs of conveniently diverse honeymooners (a gay couple, an African-American and an elderly one) and you’ve got an autopilot recipe for a bland comedy summer slushie.

But while the script – also penned by Rogen, who casts her husband Seth as an on-cruise love interest for Rachel – certainly lacks that dash of inspiration that can elevate a just-okay comedy into a truly great one, the cast certainly do their own heavy lifting to attempt as much. Grammer needs virtually no introduction after having embodied the beloved radio psychologist Fraiser Crane on TV for over a decade (funnily enough, neither is he new to the Netflix stable, doing voiceover duty as a mentoring troll in the Guillermo del Toro-created animated series Trollhunters). He is about as perfect a piece of casting here as can be; possessed of a likeability that allows us to not hate him as much as Rachel justifiably does for most of the running time. Bell is characteristically spiky and spunky here; once again delivering a witty and likable performance that gels nicely with Grammer’s suave charm.

One thing that certainly sucks out even more of the already limited wind in the film’s sales in Netflix’s shoddy, apparent cost-cutting measures. As is becoming standard for the streaming service’s original feature length material, sets once again feel threadbare, the mise-en-scene and shots are clearly all sorted in a rush, with even the off-cruise traipse to Jamaica coming across as entirely perfunctory.