Directed by: Lauren Miller
Starring: Kristen Bell, Kelsey Grammer, Seth Rogen
Actor-turned-director Lauren Miller, notably known for her comedic roles in Superbad and Sausage Party, makes her feature-length debut with the Netflix backed drama Like Father, a take on the ‘estranged father’ sub-genre that shouldn’t be confused with Father of the Year; another Netflix original film that is, shall we say, an insult to cinema.
Like Father tells the story of Rachel (Kristen Bell), who is introduced in the opening scene taking a business call in her wedding dress. It’s her wedding day, her future husband stands at the altar awaiting his bride; looking worried as she’s later than expected. Unbeknownst to Rachel, her estranged father sits in the crowd on her big day, learning about his daughter for the first time as her boss officiates her wedding – telling stories about Rachel’s character. But when Rachel’s phone slips out of her dress and falls to the ground, her husband leaves her stranded at the altar; frustrated at his fiancé’s life-intruding work ethic. As she spots her long-lost father in the crowd, Rachel’s day can’t seem to get much worse…
At the film’s most warming and tender scene, Rachel and Harry spend a night drinking Manhattan’s and discussing theoretical principles on how to eat pizza on a park bench in the hope of rejuvenating their fractured relationship. Sadly for Rachel, drunken decisions lead to the pair waking up sore-headed on a cruise across the Caribbean; both stranded at sea and forced to rekindle the extinguished flame that is their relationship.
The strongest aspect of Miller’s debut is her encouraging depiction of Rachel, a strong-willed woman in an esteemed position at an advertising firm in New York; a positive role model for all female viewers. Yet that also leads to the main problem of the movie, in the way that Miller obliviously contradicts her achievement in bringing a headstrong, independent woman to the fore by promoting her relentless work-ethic as a discouraging trait; a trait that leads her to being the butt of a bad joke between her fellow cruise attendees. There’s an argument that Rachel’s constant phone-checking is a metaphor (albeit on-the-nose) for our obsession with digital media consumption, but when this message is being banged over our heads for the entire duration of the movie, it undermines the sincerity of bringing a successful female protagonist to the centre of the narrative.
Even if you disassociate the politics from the story, the film also fails on a tonal level. Miller has a hard time juggling between the heavy melodrama of childhood trauma and the comedic levity, the latter relying on cliched humour such as fat people falling and awkward first encounters for laughs. The comedy isn’t that funny, and the more dramatic moments fail to penetrate beneath the surface; as if the movie wants to be more of a Caribbean cruise commercial rather than an emotionally provocative comedic drama about estranged parenthood.
Ultimately, Like Father adds to Netlfix’s collection of unspectacular and forgettable flicks. There’s nothing new to be seen here, but I have faith that debutant Miller has much more to show in her career.