Like Father is not a good movie, but it at least has the courtesy to be fascinating in how it doesn’t work at all. The plotting is painfully contrived as it bends over backwards to get its two lead characters communicating and sharing the same space, but it’s in service of a worthy goal of trying to heal a familial estrangement. And yet the film’s setting is constantly working against the picture as we’re constantly reminded that they’re on a Royal Caribbean Cruise, and so every emotional beat gets countered with fun hijinks on a cruise ship. Despite the strong performances from its lead actors and occasional moments of dramatic connection, Like Father always feels adrift.
Rachel (Kristen Bell) is a workaholic for a marketing firm who gets left by her fiancée at the altar. To make matters more complicated, her father Harry (Kelsey Grammer), who abandoned Rachel and her late mother when Rachel was five, shows up at the wedding uninvited. Depressed and despondent, Rachel reluctantly decides to go out drinking with Harry. When they wake up, they’re on the cruise ship honeymoon that Rachel’s fiancé had booked. Rachel and Harry decide to see if they can patch things up, but they have to start revealing their prejudices and resentments to move forward.
The concept of the movie—an estranged father and daughter trying to reconcile—is a good one. Unfortunately, it’s trapped in some of the worst plotting imaginable. Set aside for a moment that getting left at the altar is a big emotional moment all its own, and the movie doesn’t really have much time for it. Then you throw in trying to put the two main characters on the honeymoon that was supposed to be for Rachel and her fiancé, and it just gets even more bizarre. And it doesn’t get any better any time a character has to explain how these two characters got on the ship in the first place. It seems like writer/director Lauren Miller Rogen figured that if she acknowledged the outlandishness of the situation, we would eventually accept it. Unfortunately, it only draws our attention back to one of the film’s greater flaws rather than just letting us move on.
The movie would be so much stronger if we could just sit with the drama between Rachel and Harry, but the film never figures out how to balance these scenes with its more comic aspects, so it’s a tonal rollercoaster that never settles down. One scene you’ll be having Rachel talking about the absolutely tragic way her mother died, and then in the next scene you’ll have Rachel and Harry practicing for the big karaoke contest. It gives you whiplash, and makes the movie seem like it’s afraid to ever just embrace its emotional baggage. Like Father is the activities director who keeps interrupting you during a very serious conversation.
And that’s a shame because Bell and Grammer are quite good in their respective roles. You believe that this is a daughter and father with 26 years of space between them. Bell is angry and combative, and Grammer is humbled and skittish. They’re like oil and water, and to the movie’s credit, it acknowledges that not everything can be solved thanks to fun times on a Royal Caribbean Cruise (although the movie does feel like it doubles as an ad for the cruise line). With a stronger script and setting, it feels like Like Father could have gotten to the heart of their relationship instead of constantly turning its attention to cruise activities or irritating supporting characters.
At its best, Like Father is a movie that just kind of washes over you, a way to kill time on Netflix on a lazy afternoon weekend even though there are plenty of better things to watch. At its worst, the movie plays like the world’s most twisted Royal Caribbean ad, following two character with serious emotional baggage and then asking them to do game shows and cliff jumping.