Last night, I caught the French film import du jour, Mia Hansen-Love's The Father of My Children, and I was far from impressed. The film is one of those movies where if it was made in English, no one would give a shit about it, but since it's spoken in a foreign tongue everyone immediately respects it. The story concerns a film producer whose production company is in massive debt with no way out. He tries to hide his concerns from his wife and three daughters, but, eventually, he can't anymore and spills everything to his wife. She tries to comfort him to no avail. The next morning, in an act of madness, he shoots himself in the head. The last hour of the film chronicles the rest of the family's attempts to overcome this tragedy. Tears are shed, shouting matches are had and dark family secrets are uncovered. If all of this sounds familiar, it all is and that's precisely where the problem lies. Everything about The Father of My Children is nicely done but there is a complete lack of ambition to push outside the boundaries of what you would expect from a film of this nature. The family is all lovey-dovey in the way families only in the movies are. And, even when their world is crumbling, there is no backlash, no sense that even for a second this might cripple them even for a brief period of time. You know the family is going to recover and that's that. Critics, like the one who wrote the blurb featured at the top of this poster on the left, praised The Father of My Children for its lack of sentimentality, as if being sentimental is the death knell for the movies. Sure, the film didn't need to be as sentimental as something like The Blind Side (few movies do), but a tad more dramatic tension, which could manifest itself as "sentimental," between the characters and their situation would have made for a better film. Instead, especially during that last hour, The Father of My Children flits around between various plot points, including the daughter finding out about her father's love child from before he married his mother, without ever coming to any sort of catharsis or reason of interest. When the daughter eventually meets the mother of her father's son and they talk for a bit where the mother reveals that her son and his father never really got along. As soon as that tidbit is thrown out there, this subplot is thrown out as quickly as it was brought up. Wouldn't the daughter be curious why the son doesn't get along with the father she loved so well? Is she at all curious about seeing another side to him? Apparently not, even though I assumed that was the whole point of bringing this whole illegitimate child up in the first place. I guess Hansen-Love wasn't interested in exploring that and that's her prerogative; what she was going for, however, totally escapes me. C+
All throughout the movie, I kept thinking about what a Hollywood remake of this film would look like. Sure, I mentioned that The Father of My Children is, essentially, a Hollywood film already, but there are moments that are far too subtle and un-histrionic for a major Hollywood tearjerker that would need to be amplified so us dumb Americans would get it. Actually, with just a couple of changes, I could see this as an Oscar contender for one of Hollywood's A-list actresses. Sure, the original French film is more about the father, but men aren't allowed to be emotional in Hollywood films so the actress will have to do all the heavy lifting. I ran through a score of capable actresses for my imaginary remake, but the one who made the most sense was good ole Sandy Bullock. With this film we'd get a Best of Both Worlds from her. In the first half we would get the fun, lovable, eternally charming Sandy that makes her so appealing in her romantic comedies. Then, in the second half, after her husband dies, Sandy the Strong Mama will come out and blow us all away. When she's upset, she's really going to be upset. When she has to put on a brave face for her girls, she make it the best damn brave face you've ever seen. When she faces the prospect of losing her husband's company, she's going to save that company even if it takes every last bit of her already waning strength left. When her daughter finds out about her husband's son, Sandy is going to bring everyone together and convince her daughter (and, therefore, the son, too) what a great man her dad was and the scene will end with a big emotional group hug that will bond them permanently. Okay, so maybe I'm being a little glib here, but the point still remains: if Sandy Bullock wants Oscar #2, she needs to get on an English-language remake of this movie and change a couple of minor details to suit both her persona and Oscar's taste. I think it can happen so let's make it work, people!