Owen Wilson and Ed Helms wonder who is their daddy, in Warner Bros holiday hilarity ‘Father Figures’. Fraternal twin brothers, Kyle and Peter Reynolds (Owen Wilson and Ed Helms) have learned that their father did not die when they were young as they had previously believed, and their eccentric mother, Helen Baxter (Glenn Close) had slept with many rich, famous and powerful men in the 1970’s, adding greater difficulty to this unfolding mystery. When they go on a long distance road trip to find out who their real father is, they find out more about their mother than they probably ever wanted to know, as well as encountering a mysterious hitchhiker (Kat Williams) and other misadventures that add a confrontation speedbump. ‘Father Figures’ is helmed by first time director Lawrence Sher, and is rated R for adult language and sexual references throughout.
‘Father Figures’ is certainly not a great film by any stretch of the imagination. After sitting on the production shelf for over two years, the film was finally blessed with a release date of Christmas week, competing against the best that the holiday season has to offer, instead of a Father’s Day release that could tie into the marketing of the movie. I was expecting pure sludge going into this film, and was remotely surprised at just how much heart burns deep beneath a typical Owen Wilson movie. One big hurdle that I see for the film is that it is entirely marketed wrong, catering in its trailer to the very bromance comedies that require gross-out humor in appealing to its audience. That is not what we get here at all in the majority, despite there being a few rare instances of seediness that the screenplay just can’t stay away from. This instead feels like a cute and quirky indie comedy with some credible cinematography to boot along the way. Because of this, it finds itself in an awkward situation in which it won’t be crude enough to appeal to the audience that it was marketed towards, and it won’t find the audience needed in making it reputable because of the trailer that did more harm than good. Baffling I know, but Sher’s film isn’t anywhere close to the kind of juvenile films that I have sat through across this year of below average comedies, giving way to a possible blessing in disguise by having your expectations so low going into it.
Stuck somewhere between road trip films like ‘Father’s Day’ and ‘Due Date’, ‘Father Figures’ meat and potatoes revels with this parental mystery that has come to light suddenly, and leaves Helms character in particular jaded by his newfound lack of identity. Because of this, the quest to find their mysterious father figure becomes the goal, but as the film progresses, it’s clear that this becomes more about Wilson and Helms respective characters in mending a relationship that has soured over time. It was in this perspective of the film where I found great positive return in what I was enjoying, but unfortunately it is all too good to last since this feels like the victim of surgical re-writes in plodded pacing, as well as those few instances that I mentioned earlier that feel desperate in extremities to give this forgettable script something to remember by. On the former, much of the film feels like scene-by-scene exposition instead of moving in sync as one cohesive movement. Because of this, the screenplay never picks up enough momentum to carry it to the next gag. On the latter, what comic hijinks that it does have never feels genuine to the rest of the screenplay around it that feels too mature at times to fall for this level of practicality.
As for the mystery itself, it’s really quite easy to figure out at about the halfway point because of that cursed trailer that gave away too much going into it. Based on this two minute video, we know that there are only four men in contention here to be the Father, so of course each of them will get their own set-up and progression, and then three of them will suddenly realize that they can’t be the father. It’s interesting to me how they always realize this after a couple hours of hanging out, and not the second that their respective year with Helen is brought to light. Anyway, the answer will become clear when we’ve rushed through three of these males within the first half of the movie, and that could only leave one possible answer. Because of this third act predictability, the film just kind of stands in place and confirms what we were beginning to fear about it; that too much time was invested in this aspect and not enough to their loving Mother. She practically disappears until the final few scenes of the film, and by then that missed opportunity in telling her story just feels like a tacked-on layer to force the audience into enduring its miniscule level of heart that has been stored away repeatedly until now. It constantly feels like Sher’s film is in a tug-of-war creatively with itself, and if it were brave enough to take the road less traveled, it could’ve returned the surprise sweet hit of the year, but ‘Father Figures’ feels doomed to the shelves of rental stores, only one month after it hit theaters.
What did surprise me was in the credible cinematography here by John Lindley that proved that someone was trying to go above and beyond in this project. When I called this an indie comedy earlier, I meant that in the visual spectrum sense, as Lindley channels us through some very artistic transitional scenes, as well as some moving sequences that prove an honorable and stylish presence behind the lens. What’s even more credible about them is that the transitions don’t feel like a gimmick by growing stale in repetition along the way. Every so often, Lindley switches up the design and gives those tightly-knitted film students something to hang on to in the way of substance for this film that can sometimes lack it in the long run. Beyond this, the song selections as well are tender and very welcoming of this classy mood that overcomes us. I’m not familiar with any of the tracks myself, but it was nice to have a modern comedy that didn’t need the newest top 40 rap track in accommodating its scenes audibly to give it a fresh and hip perspective.
The performances themselves can feel overall inconsequential, even though Helms offers a strong transformation from beginning to end that proves his character’s emotional growth along the way. When the film began, I truly hated his character. It mostly feels like Ben Stiller should’ve played this role, as it’s often too dry for Helms animated sense of personality that usually carries much of the comedic load. But as the film progressed, I saw the character shaking his endless bouts with depression that have plagued his life, and saw the opening up of a conservative character who learned to live for the moment. This is undoubtedly Helms best performance to date, and that’s a bit of a shame considering so few people will give this film the light of day. As for Owen Wilson, well it’s the same role that he has been playing throughout his career. Because these two are in 95% of the scenes in this film, Wilson is half of what we’re saddled with, so the usual dazed and confused routine becomes the norm. His character is a polar opposite of Helms, so the opposites attract scenario is full swing with this one, carving out a telegraphed plan that any moviegoer will see coming. Close is my favorite performance unquestionably, but her character doesn’t have enough of a presence on the finished script. Likewise are J.K Simmons, Christopher Walken, Terry Bradshaw, and Ving Rhames who also don’t stick around long enough to leave a lasting impression in their multi-dimensional personalities. I never felt that any of them were the right choice for this family, but one of them has to be picked, and I guess the ending is as good as it could’ve possibly been with this set-up.
THE VERDICT – ‘Father Figures’ has instances of maturity and dignity in its productional aspects that already gave me more positively than I was expecting from this film. Unfortunately, much like Helms and Wilson’s protagonists, the film too seeks the proper hands of guidance to cradle it competently, relenting on two polar opposite tastes of comic direction that collide and cut short one another. With better pacing and less attention to the tasteless gags, Sher’s film could’ve been just the kind of comedy occasion that families flock towards during the holiday movie weekend. As it stands, this father-finder runs out of gas halfway across the expedition.