For those wondering what the worst-case scenario of the Toni Erdmann American remake could become, look no further than Netflix’s latest comedy offering, Like Father.
Luckily, Toni Erdmann this is not. Instead, it’s just another example of Netflix picking up casual studio fare that used to release on the big screen, falling in line with Set It Up from a few months ago. It’s a comedy about a corporate workaholic daughter, Rachel (Kristen Bell), who is forced to reconnect with her more spiritually enlightened father, Harry (Kelsey Grammer), by his own doing. And it all ends in a fantastical musical moment of reconciliation and bonding. (Now you see the Toni Erdmann comparison.)
When Rachel is too busy taking work calls literally seconds before she’s supposed to walk down the aisle to marry her fiancé Owen (Jon Foster), he decides he can’t take it anymore and leaves her at the altar. At the same time, Harry decides to show up to Rachel’s wedding after being absent from her life for the last 26 years. The two coinciding life events, plus a lot of heavy drinking, leave Rachel bringing her father Harry on her honeymoon cruise, in place of Owen. They both wake up in a hungover daze realizing the drunken decision they made the night before, and with a sweeping pull-out, it is revealed they’re already out on the open water aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.
This brings us to perhaps the most bizarre element of Like Father, in that it begins to feel largely like a glorified Royal Caribbean commercial. There are innumerable very attractive establishing shots of the cruise line, transitional shots of people enjoying themselves with views of all the activities available to patrons, plus glamour shots of the buffet food being served and eaten. It all makes you wonder if this film got paid exclusively through a Royal Caribbean endorsement. Which might be the case! And it’s not a total knock against the film.
Having this rather unexpected and extravagant location and plot device at her disposal, writer/director Lauren Miller Rogen takes advantage and gives us a rather moving portrait of a father and daughter reconnecting. The characters learn a little something about moving on from past regrets and the importance of family ties. A veteran of the Seth Rogen cine-verse, Lauren Miller has been married to the funnyman since 2011, and this marks among the first times — apart from the underrated For a Good Time, Call… — she’s working behind the camera.
Once aboard, Rachel and Harry meet a cheery cast of fellow, or at least in their eyes, honeymooners: Second-marriage couple Dan (Leonard Ouzts) and Beth (Blaire Brooks), elder couple Shirley (Mary Looram) and Leonard (Anthony Laciura) and, my personal favorite, gay couple Jim (Paul W. Downs) and Steve (Zach Appelman). Getting to see Broad City‘s Paul W. Downs play gay and totally ham it up in the role makes watching this even more worth it.
The movie throws in plenty of cruise ship antics and games, which, though they are fun, distract from a strong swell of emotional undercurrent delivered in the great performances from Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer. Luckily, once the sit-com setup and broad comedy diminishes a bit and the movie finds its groove, the actors are really given room to let scenes breathe. There’s a lot of poignancy and sadness in the situations these characters of Rachel and Harry find themselves in, both in their own lives and with each other. The script does a good job of navigating to avoid some obvious pratfalls while still holding strong to a very conventional story arc of rekindling a once-lost family bond.
Of course, Seth Rogen makes an appearance, playing a potential rebound love interest for Rachel. What’s interesting about this role is that, even in a few scenes, he delivers perhaps his most charming performance to date and reminds me why he was so good in Knocked Up a decade ago.
The games, the endless buffet and sugary colored cocktails, and the familial drama all come to a close with a theatrical karaoke performance of Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” and if that doesn’t put a stupid smile on your face, then perhaps this movie really isn’t for you. But for this viewer, even beyond the glamorization of Royal Caribbean and obvious story arc, thanks to touching lead performances and a fun supporting cast, Like Father leans closer to the upper tier of Netflix original movies.