Fathers’ Day

(Ivan Reitman, USA, 1997)


Fathers’ Day is an American remake of the French hit Les Compères (1983). Like so many projects of this sort, it has a slightly awkward air of basic mistranslation: its premise never entirely takes root in native soil. And this is odd, since the topic is one beloved of American comedy, from the original Father of the Bride (1950) to its remakes (1991, 1995) – paternity and its manifold anxieties.

Collette (Nastassja Kinski) separately tells two men, Jack (Billy Crystal) and Dale (Robin Williams) that, sixteen years previously, they fathered her son Scott (Charlie Hofheimer). Now Scott, a crazy, mixed up teenager, has run away from home with a wild girl, and it is up to Jack and Dale to find him. The film traces this pursuit and its aftermath – including the complications it causes for Dale in his relationship with Carrie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus from Seinfeld).

Jack and Dale form a classic odd couple. Jack is a harried lawyer whose vital, carefree days are long behind him; Dale is a supposedly avant-garde playwright bent on suicide. Suddenly shaken out of complacency by the possibility of retroactive fatherhood, they spend most of their time together trying to establish just which of them is the better man. Director Ivan Reitman and writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel do almost nothing interesting with the spectacle of such desperate male vanity – in terms of family problems and life values, Fathers’ Day makes the contemporaneous Bette Midler vehicle That Old Feeling (1997) look positively profound.

Crystal and Williams are both thoroughly narcissistic performers, largely unable to spark off other actors. Here they offer familiar routines: Crystal stiff as a board and flapping his gums, producing a string of brittle one-liners about his own discomfort in every situation; Williams wildly extrovert, flailing his limbs and sporting a dizzy variety of accents, mannerisms and dance moves. Yet the pairing of these two comedy-capsules works surprisingly well, in a manner reminiscent of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis – and their chemistry gives the film its share of modest, time-wasting pleasantness.

MORE Reitman: Dave, Ghostbusters II, Six Days, Seven Nights

© Adrian Martin August 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search