A low-key Big Fish minus the whimsical fantasy, When Did You Last See Your Father? charts the efforts of a son, poet Blake (Colin Firth), to come to grips with the encroaching death of his center-of-attention father, Arthur (Jim Broadbent). Based on Blake Morrison’s autobiographical tome, Anand Tucker’s film is measured and mature, its flashbacks neatly inserted into the present-day 1989 action, and its portraitures crafted with a sturdy attention to detail. Yet as a male weepie about learning to love your flawed but devoted paterfamilias, the director’s latest is as respectably superficial as his prior Shopgirl, its narrative shift from now to then, and its tonal swings from humor to sorrow and from anger to joy, executed with such cadenced, cloying delicacy that one can’t help but bristle. There’s a gilded quality to the proceedings—the way the sun sparkles off surfaces, the way the wind delicately blows people’s hair, the way light shines in people’s eyes—that’s so syrupy it creates an emotional remove, this despite the fact that Broadbent is more than up for the challenge of his showcase role, embodying the garrulous, domineering Arthur with grandiose, imperfect charm. Although his protagonist’s gloominess eventually becomes insufferable, Firth is also quite proficient as Blake, expressing a deep resentment over his father’s failings that’s complicated by both Dad’s nobler qualities as well as his own less-than-upstanding behavior. When Did You Last See Your Father?, however, opts for refinement at the expense of depth, its script gratingly predictable both in terms of structure and emotion, and frustratingly incapable—despite numerous, nostalgia-drenched ‘50s and ‘60s-set sequences—of suggesting any riveting, decades-long tension between father and son. Tastefully turgid, it’s a bit of for-men sentimentality that ineffectively attempts to elicit waterworks via a climactically corny hug, and conveys profound character conflict through the overused sight of Firth’s profile reflected in mirrors.
- Sony Pictures Classics
- 92 min
- Anand Tucker
- David Nicholls
- Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent, Juliet Stevenson, Gina McKee, Claire Skinner, Matthew Beard
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