A family nightmare.
It’s almost impossible to really describe what kind of a film Father Figures actually is. On one hand, it’s a vulgar, absurdist comedy, but on the other hand, it tries to be a dramatic story about the relationship between two brothers and how they must move past the mysteries of their parentage to grow closer together.
Under the guidance of an experienced director and with a well-balanced script, it’s possible that a film like Father Figures could exist and be a successful studio dramedy. Unfortunately, Father Figures does not have a steady enough foundation to pull off such a complicated and ambitious construction.
Coming from longtime cinematographer and first-time director, Lawrence Sher, Father Figures focuses on the lives of Peter (Ed Helms) and Kyle Reynolds (Owen Wilson), two polar opposite twin brothers who not only look nothing alike, but also have completely different personalities. Where Peter is a hard-working doctor that’s never quite gotten over the death of his father from before he was born, Kyle is the kind of confident free spirit that drives Peter nuts. Not to mention that while Peter had to work for his career and money, Kyle has been able to spend years living off the royalties of a popular barbecue sauce, which uses his likeness on all of their labels.
Peter and Kyle are forced to grow closer together, though, when they discover that their mother (Glenn Close) had lied to them about their father being dead, because according to her, she didn’t actually know who their father was when they were born. This sends the two brothers on a cross-country mission to try and track down their father, in the hopes of finally having the kind of father-son relationship that they’d missed out on their whole lives. And as you can likely expect, what follows is a screwball road trip adventure that sends Peter and Kyle into increasingly more convoluted and ridiculous situations as they meet all of the men who may or may not be their long-lost father.
That same basic road trip comedy premise has been brought to the big screen in a number of movies throughout the years, most of which have framed it around some kind of comedic subtext. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise then to learn that all of the successful beats in Father Figures – which are few and far between – are when the film leans most heavily into the absurdist comedy realm. Whether it be a crazy set-piece involving a car and some train tracks in the middle of the night, or a coincidental meet-up between several characters that could lead to some gag-worthy consequences for them, its Father Figures’ increasingly ridiculous comedic leaps that are its most memorable moments.
But, as mentioned at the start, Father Figures tries to do far too much at once. So while its various big, comedic set-pieces can be deemed successful on their own, they’re almost always damaged by the script’s several attempts at tying everything together with some emotional twists that never ring true or work within the tone that’s already been established throughout the rest of the film.
As a result, it’s tonal jumps can range from mildly frustrating all the way to jaw-droppingly bad, which isn’t helped by the film’s uneven pacing issues. While Owen Wilson is mostly able to work his way through all of the film’s dramatic and comedic moments looking good, Ed Helms is less fortunate. A reliable comedic veteran in his own right, here he just isn’t able to bring any kind of likability to Peter, a cliched character from the very beginning, who spends most of the film jumping from one tired trope to another.
Thanks to his legitimately illustrious career as a cinematographer, Sher does manage to turn Father Figures into an uncommonly incredible-looking studio comedy. But while he delivers on a visual front, he doesn’t have the experience or intuition necessary to bridge Father Figures’ comedic and dramatic moments together in any coherent way. Although, in fairness, the film’s screenplay and characters don’t give him much to work with either.