It’s to the point where Ed Helms’s presence in any new film’s cast automatically promises a reactionary litmus test for the psychological limits of post-feminist masculinity. In films like The Hangover, its sequels, and major portions of Vacation, the put-upon everymen he portrayed were unmistakably encouraged to embrace their inner wolves, rather than risk the explosive consequences of keeping everything bottled up. Helms, to his credit, remains a daring enough performer to find something resembling nuance in the revenge of the nerd, and if he were to work in vehicles worthy of him, he could take the man-child baton from Jerry Lewis and rescue the id from the idiotic. Father Figures is far from that film, but it at least avoids continuing to refill the Helms persona’s on-screen prescription for raising hell.
Peter Reynolds (Helms) is an over-the-hill single dad who grimaces about his job as a proctologist and fills his lonely nights watching Law & Order: Special Victims Unit reruns, and whose own son thinks he’s “an asshole.” If he didn’t believe that his life derailed before his mom Helen’s (Glenn Close) wedding, he definitely feels the sting after touching base with his fraternal twin brother, Kyle (Owen Wilson), a successful and utterly content model for a BBQ sauce brand. Then the bottom drops out when Helen informs the two that the man they believed to be their late father was someone she made up to avoid telling them who their real and very much alive father actually is, sending Peter into a tailspin of recriminations about what his life could’ve been had he managed to establish a working relationship with his own dad.
Father Figures stalls for most of its running time putting Peter and Kyle through a wild goose chase of potential sperm sources, each more outlandish than the last, which is saying something considering that the first stop on their hunt has them meeting up with Pro Football Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw. And though the film focuses primarily and mawkishly on rekindling the brotherly connection between Peter and Kyle, its chief running joke is that, despite her warm matronly glow, Helen was at one time a good-time girl who could give anyone else at Studio 54 a run for Bianca Jagger’s crown.
For a film that’s content to slut-shame someone who for most of its running time isn’t even around to defend herself, it’s curious that it’s all capped off by a last-minute tribute intended to honor the same woman. Father Figures, which finished shooting more than two years ago before spending endless months without a release date, is both meandering and bloated, suggesting the Frankensteinian result of brutal test screenings. Lawrence Sher’s film belatedly offers up a message that, rather than focus on what’s missing from your life, you’d do better to appreciate what you have. Which, in the case of this film’s audience, would’ve been roughly two hours.