We get product placement. It’s almost impossible to get a mid-budget film financed these days, even with Netflix picking up a lot of the slack that used to only last a week at the cinema. It’s perfectly acceptable for a film to occasionally throw in a few MacBooks, make sure the Starbucks cups are facing the right way, and keep the Audi logos polished on the stunt cars. What’s not okay, is Like Father – a film that has clearly been financed by a popular cruise ship company (that we won’t name, out of spite) to come off like an extended infomercial. There’s a perfectly sweet, nicely made little father-daughter comedy in here somewhere, but we can’t see it for all the gratuitous sales pitches.
The debut feature from Lauren Miller Rogen, Like Father marks a confident next step for the actress turned writer and producer on 2012’s middling For A Good Time Call…, and she takes the same gently spikey, slightly left-field approach to the romcom and pushes it into a generational family drama instead – telling the tale of a workaholic daughter and an absentee dad forced to reconnect on a luxury holiday.
Kristen Bell is Rachel, a woman so giddily obsessed with her marketing career that she takes a work call as she’s walking down the aisle of her own wedding. When the groom notices, he suddenly realises that she’s not for him, and he jilts her in front of her friends and family. Also in the audience is Harry (Kelsey Grammer), Rachel’s dad that she hasn’t seen for 25 years, and a bout of angry drinking sees them both wake up in the honeymoon suite of the cruise ship that Rachel was supposed to be enjoying with her new husband.
Implausible hook aside (what kind of cruise company would let two comatose people check in during the middle of the night?!), the groundwork is laid for the real meat of the film: getting Bell and Grammer to do what they do best.
Rogen’s more famous husband, Seth, gets a bit-part as Bell’s affable rebound (along with the film’s funniest line, about him not being a pot smoker), but the movie belongs to the two leads who look, as usual, like they barely have to try. Between all the lovingly curated shots of the spacious suites, award-winning musicals, exciting waterslides and luxury fine dining, Bell and Grammer are so likeable and effortless that it almost doesn’t matter that you’re watching an advert.
Almost. With the two leads doing their best to warm up a tepid script about familial ties and seizing the day, the film suffers from everything it’s not allowed to say. Because of whatever debt Rogen owes the cruise ship company, most of the jokes that could have been made are left awkwardly unsaid. A mechanically raised tiki bar becomes a cool feature, not a weird background gag. The other creepy couples on board are all perfectly nice people. Forced fun group activities (such as taking part in an elaborate game show to win a chance to see inside an upgraded cabin suite…) are all brilliant, and not at all utterly horrific.
It’s ironic that a film about a marketing executive overworking herself should so clearly have been cooked up by a marketing executive who overworked herself. It was also a terrible idea to include a scene where Grammer watches the original Overboard in his room, reminding everyone they could be watching a much better, much funnier film about two people on a boat.
Still, there’s enough heart in Like Father to not stay mad at it for too long. You won’t laugh out loud but you will feel better for having watched it. Even if this isn’t the Frasier/Veronica Mars crossover we’ve all secretly been hoping for, it’s always enough to see Bell and Grammer doing pretty much anything – even if they are trying to sell us a cruise…
Like Father is on Netflix now.