BIG FISH Without The Fantasy

WHEN DID YOU LAST SEE YOUR FATHER? (Dir. Anand Tucker, 2007)

When I first saw the trailer for this film with the premise of Jim Broadbent as Colin Firth’s father I thought ‘that’s genius casting!’ The best casting since Ewan McGregor played a younger version of Albert Finney in BIG FISH in my humble opinion. I didn’t realize though that the film itself shares a lot in common with that father/son fable – as it deals with a troubled son trying to sort out the truth about the past regarding his father’s exploits. Just subtract the carnivals, the exotic conjoined twins, the giant cat-fish, the witch, etc. and retain the possibility of infidelity and this is pretty much what you’d get. But that may be a bit unfair and too simple a conclusion for this sincere melodrama that moves to its own heartbeat even as it gets a bit maudlin and treacly in its second half.

Based on the book by Blake Morrison and set in Yorkshire 1989, WHEN DID YOU LAST SEE… has Firth fretting, albeit in a very sub-dued manner, about his relationship with his father (a graceful and charming Broadbent) as he is on his deathbed. Many flashbacks involving 2 young actors playing the young Firth (Bradley Johnson and Matthew Beard) show us that he has reason to believe that Broadbent had affairs and may have even fathered a daughter. Nearly every other character including his dotting but stern mother (Juliet Stevenson) tells him in so many words to drop it but Firth can’t seem to stop dragging up past pain. With too many shots of moody reflections of the characters in mirrors and an overly sentimental score, this film is a good, not great, study of a family quietly scrambling for some sort of perspective closure.

Now, I’ve never decided on whether closure is a real tangible thing or if it’s just a psychological buzzword popularized on Oprah but I do know there’s ‘movie’ closure and I appreciate this films realistic untidy approach to it. Despite that there’s really little suspense as to whether Firth will come to accept his father for who he was when he’s gone, the performances, especially by the wry Broadbent, are spot-on and the overall tone has the right pitch as well. Still I could have done without the 2 masturbation scenes; not sure what character insight we’re supposed to gain about Firth from them except maybe that he has never fully grown up. WHEN DID YOU LAST SEE YOUR FATHER? is likable and un-imposing but it drags a bit. Not badly enough that I was hoping for Broadbent to turn into a big mythical cat-fish mind you, so consider this a good review.

More later…

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