Review: Father Figures

PLOT: Two middle aged men (Owen Wilson & Ed Helms) discover that their father isn’t dead like their mother (Glenn Close) told them. The only problem – she’s not quite sure who he is.

REVIEW: While familiar, FATHER FIGURES has a nice hook. A similar story from the point of view of the dads, LES COMPRÈRES was done in French and adapted into the Robin Williams/ Billy Crystal vehicle, FATHER’S DAY back in ’97. Doing it from the perspective of the sons isn’t a bad idea, but FATHER FIGURES squanders the huge comic potential with an assembly line comedy that’s short on laughs.

FATHER FIGURES, formerly known by the much-cooler title BASTARDS, is the directorial debut of Todd Phillips’ usual cinematographer Lawrence Sher. I’ve always loved his cinematography, which gave THE HANGOVER trilogy and WAR DOGS such a slick sheen, and to be sure FATHER FIGURES looks good. It has the same sharp, clean look as those films – and it’s a welcome change from the way comedies are often shot to look like sitcoms. This looks like a legitimate film.

Sadly, Sher’s not as skilled as Phillips when it comes to juggling tone. He tries to give FATHER FIGURES the occasional dose of the melancholy, something Phillips only just pulled off in DUE DATE, but bungled in THE HANGOVER III. Ed Helms, to his credit, really tries to do something other than shtick, playing his physician as near clinically depressed, and toning down his usual madcap style significantly. He’s maybe too poignant, as it becomes a drag when he’s on screen and clashes with the occasional dose of rude humor, which, let’s face it, is why people are watching this in the first place.

While Helms is trying to do something different, Owen Wilson is on autopilot all the way, with him being a laid-back, easygoing model that’s on the verge of making a fortune after having his image licensed for a popular BBQ sauce. He’s fine, but maybe a bit too old for the terminal adolescent part he always plays.

FATHER FIGURES is almost rescued by the supporting cast, with Glenn Close having a ball as the formerly promiscuous mom, waxing nostalgic about cocaine and partying at Studio 54. Likewise, the single funniest performance in the film comes from football great Terry Bradshaw, who’s thrilled at the prospect of having at least one new son (in a neat twist – Helms is the one he takes a shine to) and can’t help but get nostalgic over Close’s formerly libertine ways. Ving Rhames also has a moment or two as Bradshaw’s best buddy, a still-juiced-up former player. And remember those J.K. Simmons photos of him all jacked? His guns get a starring role here, with him sporting muscle shirts as another potential father figure, one far less cool than Bradshaw (NEBRASKA’s June Squibb is funny as his mom).

At just under two hours, FATHER FIGURES often feel long and draggy, with a punishingly slow pace in the first act. It only starts to move once the boys hit the road, but even then it’s a tough slog. More than that though is the fact that even at its best – it’s never really funny. Bradshaw and the other vets are good for a few chuckles, but not more than that.

Review: Father Figures




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.