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It’s difficult to use words like success or failure to describe a Netflix original movie since the streaming platform remains reticent over sharing any concrete viewing figures. But even without such data, it was clear that June’s sprightly rom-com Set It Up was a rare triumph, garnering warm reviews and a lingering online buzz, stronger than some of their starrier, more expensive affairs. Arriving soon after, there’s a similar comfort food quality to their latest formulaic comedy Like Father, a mostly likable if wholly unremarkable heap of froth.
Kristen Bell stars as Rachel, a workaholic New Yorker who we first see taking an important work call … right before she heads up the aisle. Keeping her phone at hand as she prepares to get married, her fiance sees it as the last straw and, with their friends and family watching, dumps her. Trying, and failing, to maintain a professional veneer back in the office, she soon falls into a pit of self-pitying and alcohol which leads her to a bar with estranged father Harry (Kelsey Grammer). The two spend all night drinking and make the drunken decision to take the pre-booked honeymoon cruise together. The morning after, out at sea, the vacation seems somewhat less amusing …
If reports are to be believed, then an integral step in Netflix’s creative decision-making process is a thorough examination of user behavior, noting what’s clicked on, watched, rewatched, downloaded and binged, meaning that we can only blame ourselves for the platform’s recent obsession with poorly made sci-fi schlock. When taking this into consideration, it’s easy to see why Like Father would be given a easy green light. It’s soft-hearted Sunday afternoon fodder that would struggle to get audiences out of their living rooms and into the cinema but as a no-stakes click at home, a no-brainer.
Taken as such, it’s not without merit. Initially, there is something cosily charming about the algorithm-based shell within which it plays out, harking back to late 80s/early 90s comedies that don’t often get made anymore, at least not on such a scale. There’s a familiar soul-heavy soundtrack, opening credits that are overlaid on top of a sweeping shot of Manhattan and the knowledge that everything will play out in exactly the way you expect. Writer-director Lauren Miller Rogen, who co-wrote 2012’s fun, flimsy comedy For A Good Time, Call … , has also picked a central duo who feel as familiar as the thinly etched plot that surrounds them.
Grammer, enjoying his biggest movie role for quite some time, channels his considerable sitcom experience for a deadbeat dad role whose road to redemption could have been stretched over a two season arc. He shares an effortless chemistry with his on-screen daughter, played with a sharp edge by Bell, experiencing a career high with her role in The Good Place, arguably the best comedy on TV right now. After Veronica Mars, Bell had a rocky path on the big screen, too often positioned as a cutesy romantic lead, but when she’s allowed to get in touch with her saltier side, she’s far more effective.
Speaking of salty, there’s a strange embrace of the unmoderated nature of Netflix originals, which don’t face the same certification worries that big screen releases encounter. It means that pretty much anything goes which can lead to films feeling less neutered but can also result in an odd dissonance. In Set It Up, the harmless PG-13-esque rom-com is suddenly interrupted by a character using the word cunt, something that would have meant an instant R rating in theaters. In Like Father, there’s a similar smattering of swear words (“I’m a fucking bride, you fucking cocksucker!”) that feel strange cushioned in such sentimental, risk-avoiding territory.
Aside from some choice curses, the script doesn’t really glide past safe waters. There’s a “going through the motions” feel to much of it, as if it’s more of a screenwriting exercise than a screenplay with Miller Rogen refusing to delve that deep into the fractured relationship at the center and littering her film with tired cliches. New Yorkers are angry, Canadians are friendly, stoned old people are hilarious and there’s a regressively written gay couple complaining about carbs, flirting with straight men and making unfunny, lewd remarks (“I love anything gigantic!”).
There are simple pleasures to be had here but one wishes there were more of them. It is nice to see a Netflix film with some aesthetic ambition (it’s as slickly filmed as a big screen comedy) and there’s a pair of undeniably accomplished performances (along with an amiable cameo from Miller Rogen’s husband Seth Rogen) but it doesn’t really amount to much. It’s an undemanding watch, easily digestible while on in the background, but even easier to forget.
- Like Father will be available on Netflix on 3 August
Source: The Guardian
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