Fathers’ Day

Fathers' Day. Silver Pictures 1997.
Fathers’ Day. Silver Pictures 1997.

Before watching the movie:

I grew up on AladdinFlubber , Jumanji, and Bicentennial Man all came out when I was the right age for them. I rediscovered Hook at a well-developed age between childhood and adulthood. Mork and Mindy may have been the first grown-up TV show I discovered on my own, but even if it wasn’t, it struck a chord with me the other possibilities didn’t. Robin Williams was the first person I did a search for in the library system and I pulled several movies from that search, a strategy I only applied so earnestly to two other actors. Having a blog focused on catching up with movies I haven’t seen led me to check off more of his filmography. So when news of his death came, I had some trouble finding a movie to review in his honor. It’s not so much that there are no movies left that I haven’t seen, but most of them are bleak dramas or too recent.

In the outpouring of love for the man I saw online in the last few weeks, Dead Poets’ Society seems to be very highly regarded, perhaps his most inspirational film. I indeed have not seen it and will certainly be getting to it soon, but I wanted to remember him with a proper comedy of the sort that there’s hardly anything left.

So here’s Father’s Day, a nearly forgotten movie about two men who have both been led to believe they’re the father of an ex-girlfriend’s runaway son, for the purpose of getting both of them to track him down. Sounds like a road movie with two giants of comedy at odds with each other. Let’s have some fun.

After watching the movie:

Jack Lawrence, a pragmatic lawyer, gets an unexpected visit from his old girlfriend Collette, who tells him that when they broke up 18 years ago she was pregnant, and the son was his, but she didn’t tell him because she wanted to marry Bob, who believes Scott to be his own. She’s telling him now because Scott ran away to and Bob just wants to wait him out. Jack is skeptical, and doesn’t want to help. The next day, Collette goes to Dale Putley, a neurotic writer/performer she was also dating at the same time and tells him Scott is his. Dale is overjoyed to have a son, and starts looking right away. Meanwhile, Jack happens to be in town with time to kill, and decides to give this a shot. The two meet and eventually figure out that they’re looking for the same kid, forcing Collette to tell them she’s not sure who the father really is. Wanting to settle it for themselves, Jack and Dale decide to work together to find the kid that could be either of theirs

Williams and Crystal make quite a pairing. Crystal’s natural state is in first gear and Williams’s is in fifth, making them a naturally funny double act. I was a bit startled by the fact that the movie shows the emptiness of Dale’s life by opening with him being interrupted in his latest suicide attempt and playing the whole thing for laughs, which is going to hit a pretty sensitive spot right now, but it does very efficiently communicate who he is and what his motivations are, and from there he’s free to be as manic, neurotic, sensitive, and funny as ever, foiling Crystal’s drier, sharper nature.

I’m a little disappointed in Bob’s B-plot. In order to feel like the man who actually raised Scott is trying to be a part of this but sideline him to keep the focus on Jack and Dale, Bob has a ludicrous string of bad luck including getting knocked down a hill in a porta-potty. And anything he may have done the audience might latch onto as causing him to deserve this happened in backstory, so he comes off as a nice guy getting humiliated just to serve Jack and Dale’s story, kind of like an inoffensive lover that needs to be dumped to let a romantic comedy proceed. What a waste of Bruce Greenwood.

However, I did like how, when Jack and Dale catch up with Scott, they eventually manage to bond with him by relating to him in an honest way child-rearing parents often don’t feel they can do. They talk with him openly about their checkered pasts, relating to his own troubles. These are two men who muddle their way into a pretty good job of being first-time fathers to a teenaged boy they just met. There may not be any memorably inspirational lines here, but there is some sincere and wise surrogate parenting going on, adding up to an emotionally-grounded comedy that satisfies, but ultimately doesn’t linger.

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