Like Father is a worthwhile but ultimately average Netflix Original that surpasses expectations with its down the middle family drama and endearing performances from Kelsey Grammer and Kristen Bell.
When workaholic Rachel (Bell) is left at the altar and reconnects with her long-absent father (Grammer) over drinks, they wake up the next morning on the honeymoon cruise Rachel had originally planned to be on with her new husband. Emotionally drained and resentful towards Harry for abandoning her at age five, Rachel is determined to end the trip as soon as possible, and Harry appears to be on board. What follows is a rekindling of a long-dead relationship that is sometimes bogged down by sub-plots and side characters but occasionally heartfelt and skillfully performed by two experienced actors who seem to be right at home in their form.
“Fear of loneliness is a very powerful thing.”
The value of a straight up family drama is not lost on me; I think the relationships that affect us the most in our lives are the ones we have or don’t have, with our parents. Like Father succeeds when it sticks to its simple form and is committed to exploring the nooks and crannies of Harry and Rachel’s circumstances. Although finger-pointing is part of the story, the film isn’t there to judge and sits between the lines of optimism and realism, which added a certain gravity to the events. I didn’t need much else around the father/daughter relationship to sustain because it was so grounded. The script contains very little melodrama and instead treats its two main characters as real people with real faults, defense mechanisms, and missing pieces. The film proposes that something wholesome can come out of a once awkward and strained familial tie; that’s a kind of hopeful sentiment that makes Like Father a warm experience even with the pain these two people are in.
With Kristen Bell’s success in the Netflix hit The Good Place it is no surprise to see her starring in a film for them, and I’m so glad she did. I’ll just say it: I’m a fan. She does for me what Meryl Streep does for society in general. While Like Father is a lot less comedic than I was expecting from the trailer, that meant a different kind of performance than what I’m used to from her, but it was great. She looks at ease in her role and so understanding of Rachel’s walls and barriers. For a lot of the runtime, her character is doing frustrating things and acting in a way that is hard for us to penetrate and connect with, but there’s a sustained susceptibility to her that ensures she is always likeable. After all she is burdened by the doubts a child will of course have after being left by the most important male figure in her life.
Through the mellow writing and characterisation we know why she does certain things and reacts in certain ways. Grammer was equally as brilliant and, in my opinion, the shining star of this show. His soft portrayal of a father who left his child is one with no over the top flair and instead is full of subtlety. The acting is by far the component that lends the most to this adventure, and as we find out more about both of our estranged vacationers they only become more real. Grammer and Bell work brilliantly together and seemed to be having a good time, which really comes through on-screen during the more joyous moments of the journey.
Like Father is at times sluggish and a fair bit of the humour doesn’t land quite right, but it has a certain charm thanks to incentive and its ability to provide a delightful progression on top of a cracked foundation. For most people, our family relationships are much less than perfect, so it’s nice to see one on-screen that has no want to be cynical or unforgiving. It isn’t heavy but can still inspire reflection or perhaps the want to project onto it. I imagine for a lot of people this will feel a bit surrogate in that regard, which is actually a nice thing and speaks for director Lauren Miller’s work here. This film revolves around losing people. Loss creates a problem which it fixes twenty-five years later. Two different contexts but eventually changing the courses of Rachel and Harry’s lives and repairing similar scars by pushing two people to find each other again.
So, how does this fare against recent Netflix releases? Way better. It’s not time to give up just yet.