Film / Reviews

In 'Fathers and Daughters' it doesn't take a village to raise a child, only Russell Crowe

by Kaori Shoji

Special To The Japan Times

Dads and their female offspring are a whole different pot of stew from mothers and their girls — both in the movies and in real life. Director Gabriele Muccino (“The Pursuit of Happyness”) takes on the theme in “Fathers and Daughters,” but doesn’t bring anything new to the party. In fact, his movie feels like a convoluted excuse for beautiful but emotionally damaged Katie (Amanda Seyfried) to have a meaningful relationship with the cute and muscular Cameron (Aaron Paul). The whole thing seems coated with a brand of romantic goo usually found in a Nicolas Sparks vehicle. Or am I the only crank in the screening room?

One thing the film touches on, but never digs into, is that the cinematic father-daughter relationship — whether it’s painful, as in the case of this movie, or positive and inspirational, as in the case of, say, “Contact” — provides excellent fodder for romance, whereas with moms and daughters it works in the opposite direction. A woman with a father fixation can seem alluring and mysterious — a damsel in distress just waiting for the right guy to come along — but a woman with mom issues is often a turn-off.

Look no further than 2013 drama “August: Osage County” for evidence: Julia Roberts, playing the daughter in that film, came off as brittle and mean, while Meryl Streep, playing her shrill, domineering and spiteful mom, made you want to run from the room screaming. Between the pair of them, they managed to alienate all men within a five mile radius, including the father (played by Sam Shepard), who kills himself in one of the films first scenes. Movies can be disturbingly misogynistic, and let’s not forget how respected filmmakers like Woody Allen have ripped into motherhood.

Fathers and Daughters (Papa ga Nokoshita Monogatari)
Rating
Run Time 116 mins
Language English
Opens Oct. 3

Muccino loves dads, as amply demonstrated by his best-known work, “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2007), which banked on the greatness of fathers and fatherhood, and how life ultimately works out better for kids when the male parent takes charge — even when he screws up or is broke.

In “Fathers and Daughters,” Katie adores her dad, Jake (Russell Crowe), as a child, and still does after he survives a car accident that kills her mother. Jake was a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist whose writing influenced millions, but after being hospitalized for a year, his spark is gone and his new book is universally panned.

With money running low and Jake becoming increasingly unstable, Katie’s control-freak aunt (Diane Kruger) insists on adopting her niece, adding to Jake’s PTSD and Katie’s fear that she will always wind up being separated from the people she loves. Twenty-five years later, the adult Katie is bad with men and relationships, and she can’t respond to sweet Cameron, who honestly loves her and wants to help.

Admittedly, there are some tear-duct-provoking moments, but the waterworks dry up as soon as the The Carpenters’ “Close to You” comes on. It’s hard not to dissolve into a puddle of embarrassment at this point, even though you are just innocently sitting in the audience had and no hand in the making of this movie.

Also hard to digest is the way Brad Desch’s screenplay flings around the L-word like it’s 1998, back when it was still fashionable to fling it around. And the way Muccini — perhaps in his need to portray fathers as doting, loving and self-sacrificing martyrs — goes over the top with Jake’s dedication to his daughter. If this is the new standard for how fathers are expected to behave, no wonder the birth rate is going down.

But it’s really the aunt who deserves our sympathy. Every time she appears, The Carpenters stop singing, Katie starts crying and the world goes cold and dark. Talk about thankless roles.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but “Fathers and Daughters” isn’t having any of that.

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