Netflix originals are a mixed bag, with the streaming provider aiming to have almost 100 original projects in their line-up in this year alone. So hearing the basic concept of the film Like Father, and the fact that it was receiving a streaming debut was something that gave me a small pause. For those of you who experience a similar kernel of doubt, you can safely tuck it away for another day. While Like Father does have one big misstep in its midst, its heart is in the right place, thanks to solid character work, and the intention to stay off the beaten path as long as it can.
After workaholic Rachel (Kristen Bell) is left at the altar on her wedding day, she and her newly returned father (Kelsey Grammar) go out on a bender of epic proportions. By the time she's slept off the evening's festivities, she realizes she's on what was supposed to be her honeymoon cruise... and her father's still with her. Days away from the nearest port of call, the two decide to put up with each other until they can get a flight back to the mainland. Nothing like a handful of days to make up for 26 years of lost time.
Netflix's latest original film to debut, Like Father is a surprisingly touching dramatic comedy. The drama is deep enough, and the jokes honest enough, that the film works brilliantly for most of its running time. This is all because writer/director Lauren Miller Rogen took what could have been a standard romantic comedy full of tropes and clichés, and turned it into a story of a father and daughter reconnecting after almost three decades of silence.
What helps the story of Like Father take off is an interesting cast of characters, anchored by the central performances of Kristen Bell's Rachel and Kelsey Grammar's Harry. With the potential of Rachel being too uptight and Harry being a loud and obnoxious slob, the concept almost dares the audience to underestimate it. But what we're actually given is a pair of characters who, while being out of balance in their lives, are just enough of a mis-match that you can believe them realistically working through their problems in this short of a time span. All the while, this is complimented by a diverse cross-section of newly made cruise friends, who help the slightly bickering pair make their way to resolution.
The action isn't filled with large-scale comedic set-pieces, or grave misunderstandings being blown out of proportion. Rather, Like Father pits its protagonists against each other's similarities, and lets the comedy blossom out of behavior, instead of thickly plotted incidents. If it wasn't for strong characters like Harry and Rachel, this sort of film would probably be a bit of a snooze, as there aren't any wacky antics to be had. Instead of running the gag of people mistaking Rachel's father as her would-be husband, we're given moments such as the two debating karaoke picks or gaming the system to win an on-board game show.
With everything Like Father has going for it, there is one thing that manages to almost totally derail the work that's been done in the majority of the film's story: its ending. Without spoiling the actual content of the ending, the films' final moments fly contrary to all of the hard work the film did avoiding standard pitfalls and devices that arise in such a story. You know where this tale is going from frame one, and Like Father did such a good job zigging when other, lesser films would have zagged that this one zig feels like a big one.
Despite tripping over its feet as it closes Like Father is a surprisingly strong film that favors inventiveness over tradition. Should it have stuck the landing, this could have been one of the best of the year. But as it stands, Like Father is a pretty impressive title in Netflix's arsenal of original entertainment. Kelsey Grammar and Kristen Bell work so well together, that I'd be pleased if they should be given the chance to do so again. More importantly, it's movies like this that show how important it is for alternative content providers to be present in the market, as this film might not have been given as much of a chance to be itself as it was given under this distributor's auspices. If you're looking for a well-crafted, adult oriented comedy, Like Father will do the trick.