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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Dad
Dad
Universal // PG // May 31, 2005
List Price: $12.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Scott Weinberg | posted June 8, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

OK, I have a theory about this movie. Bear with me here.

Back in the mid-1980's, Steven Spielberg's production company wanted a young actor named Michael J. Fox to star in a movie called Back to the Future. The young Mr. Fox had recently found some big success on a TV series called Family Ties, and it was that gig that prevented the actor from accepting the Spielberg job. The Future producers went and hired a different guy for the role (a guy named Eric Stoltz) -- but that didn't really work out. So Spielberg's "Amblin" crew went back to Family Ties producer Gary Goldberg to see if they couldn't figure out an arrangement. And the arrangement was that Michael J. Fox would be allowed to do both projects at the same time.

Flash forward a few years. Writer/director Gary Goldberg releases Dad ... under Spielberg's "Amblin" label. And while this is all just some silly theory of my own concocting, I'd allege that Dad was part of the deal that enabled Mr. Fox to do Back to the Future in the first place. My central piece of logic? Dad is almost certainly the very worst movie ever to have Steven Spielberg's name in the opening titles. If this flick hadn't been part of the Fox negotiation, there's no way Steven Spielberg would have been connected to it.

It's that bad.

First, the good: Jack Lemmon plays the titular Dad -- and I'll not hear anyone speak poorly of Mr. Jack Lemmon. Even in his lesser films (like the one we're discussing right now), Jack Lemmon could exude a wit and charm that would melt a two-ton glacier. Lemmon was a class act all the way, and he salvaged more than his fair share of turkeys on talent alone. And in the background of Dad you'll get some darn fine supporting performances from the likes of Kathy Baker, Kevin Spacey, and the late, great JT Walsh. Heck, there's even a teenaged Ethan Hawke to chuckle over.

And the compliments pretty much end right there.

As one might logically expect from a film called Dad, the story here is Fathers & Sons. Ted Danson (in a half-hearted attempt at "serious" dramatic work) plays a harried and abrasive stock analyst genius executive sort of guy. His mom has a heart attack, so he has to head back home to lend a hand with doddering ol' daddy. Baker's the sister, Spacey's the brother-in-law, and JT Walsh is an outlandishly cruel doctor.

Mom gets better, and then dad gets sick. And then dad gets better, and starts behaving like a hyperactive nine-year-old gibbon. And you just know this whole sorry affair is going to end with a funeral -- so if ridiculously strained melodrama, amazingly trite platitudes, and mega-cliches out the wazoo get your tear ducts flowing, be sure to bring a Kleenex.

Based on the novel by William Wharton (whose books were also the inspiration for Birdy and A Midnight Clear; two exceedingly fine films), Dad removes any sense of sincerity from the source material and commences with a non-stop sap-gag for two consecutive hours. The characters are broadly drawn and resoundingly unrealistic; the plot meanders aimlessly while we wait for somebody old to clutch their chest; and the film contains one of the most hilariously overwrought moments of "pathos" ever caught on film: Danson snatches his near-death father out of a hospital bed and majestically carries him down a hallway while James Horner's twinkly treacle pours out of your speakers. (I swear I had to rewind this scene and watch it twice.)

Assuming a stunningly naive and simplistic approach to such a universal theme ("getting old sucks - and watching your loved ones age sucks even more") is a nasty way to peddle your corn, and Dad has seemingly never met a push-button pap-point that it didn't want to abuse and exploit. This is a maudlin and painfully pedantic piece of filmmaking, and it's not even bad enough to be consistently funny.

But out of respect for Jack Lemmon, I'll gladly bump it up to a solid 2 stars.

The DVD

Video: Widescreen (1.85:1) Anamorphic aspect ratio, and while it's certainly not a transfer worth dancing over, the movie looks fine enough for what it is -- a glorified non-sweeps TV-movie-of-the-week.

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 in your choice of English or French. Optional subtitles are available in English and Spanish.

Extras: The Dad theatrical trailer.

Final Thoughts

I've just always had a severe distaste for this sort of half-baked "heartwarmer." (As in "awww, how can you dare to knock a movie about dying parents and love and family?!?!") Movies like Dad hope to coast by on pure "niceness" while never once bothering to deliver anything honest, insightful, or challenging. In this type of movie, just a little bit of sincerity can go a long way. I spotted none.

(In complete fairness to Gary Goldberg: movie-wise, sure, he's subjected us to Dad and Bye Bye Love (and the impending Must Love Dogs). But via the TV screens he's given us Family Ties and Spin City, and those are two pretty damn good sitcoms.)

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