For some girls, when it comes to men, there’s just no one quite like daddy. In Henry Jaglom’s Irene in Time, the eponymous thirtysomething heroine (Tanna Frederick) harbors an unhealthy obsession for her long deceased father that comes to dominate her present-day romantic relationships. Between her constant reminiscences of her old man—apparently a dashing gambler, who made his fortune betting on horses and used to take Irene to jazz concerts—there’s little room for any personality of her own. So although she frequently laments her inability to land a boyfriend, since her conversation always revolves around the most important man in her life (even on dates!), her failures seem easily explicable.
Jaglom spins his Electral tale out over a series of long, conversation-heavy sequences that find Irene in discussion with female friends, potential love interests, and family members. As the characters hash out their feelings or stumble awkwardly through their declarations, the camera pans gracefully back and forth or zooms steadily in, isolating individual speakers and endowing potentially static material with a sense of movement. Sometimes Jaglom’s panning draws explicit parallels between characters, as in a restaurant sequence in which the camera slowly shuttles back and forth among Irene and her date and a teenage girl at the next table enjoying an amicable chat with her father. When both date and father excuse themselves, Irene strikes up a conversation with the girl, touching on her two pet subjects, paternity and dating, which, the scene makes clear through its camera movement as much as its dialogue, remain inseparable for the troubled woman.
In between Irene’s posthumous displays of filial piety and unsuccessful dates, Jaglom grants the film’s supporting female characters a chance to discuss their own attitudes toward paternity—most of which are far less positive than Irene’s—and romantic relationships. One woman, for example, tells a friend that she likes her current lover because he reminds her that not all men are as awful as her father. By framing Irene’s dangerously retrograde attitudes in a wider discussion about how the father-daughter relationship affects a woman’s subsequent love life, Jaglom offers up a healthier set of possibilities for his heroine to choose from. But just as a final unflattering revelation about Irene’s father fails to alter her feelings for him, so her faith in a new lover—chosen because he “has the same look in his eyes” as her old man—proves similarly unfounded.
Although the film’s discussions often prove enlightening, Jaglom’s father obsession ultimately threatens to sink his project into something approaching self-parody. Wedging expressions of daddy love into nearly every scene (even musical interludes in which Irene is shown singing at a recording studio abound with lyrics like “When I look in his eyes, I’m searching for you,” a neat encapsulation of her romantic predicament), the filmmaker presses his case too hard. As he turns his camera on Irene for the umpteenth time while she grins ear-to-ear and coos about her “daddy,” Jaglom nearly undermines the seriousness of his project through sheer nutso repetition. Only the variety of voices that the filmmaker introduces to balance out his heroine’s babblings, and a strikingly ambiguous finale, manage to ensure a sufficient level of complexity to keep things interesting.