Netflix's Cruise-Ship Comedy Sinks, Despite Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer
Netflix's new original movie, Like Father, is technically a dramedy about reconnection and forgiveness, but it also plays like a giant ad for a major cruise line. It's an odd mix that makes for some extremely frustrating viewing; after all, it's hard to get invested in a dysfunctional relationship between an absentee father and his work-obsessed daughter when you're wondering if the not-so-subliminal messaging is telling you that all your problems will go away if you just take a cruise to Jamaica. Because, hey, it seems pretty sweet. Did you know that a certain cruise line offers all kinds of fun activities, like a surf machine thingy and mini golf? There's also a giant slide and a floating bar. And you'll probably meet some nice people at your assigned table who will help you get over your issues. Sorry, where was I?
Oh, right. There's also a movie happening. Kristen Bell is Rachel, a New York City woman who's more attached to her phone than her fiancé. So, in the movie's opening moments, he ditches her at the altar. This all coincides with the reappearance of her father, Harry (Kelsey Grammer), whom she hasn't seen in years. Rachel goes on a post-wedding disaster spiral, which Harry falls into when he shows up at her door. They get trashed, and she convinces him to come with her on the cruise her would-be husband had planned. When she wakes up hungover, at sea, in the honeymoon suite with a man she barely knows, she's pissed.
What follows is entirely predictable. Rachel learns to disconnect from her job and live a little, letting her father back into her life. The one surprise? Just how entirely toothless the whole thing is, like it's almost allergic to letting any sort of real emotions seep through.
Bell, who's so spot-on as morally conflicted Eleanor in NBC's The Good Place, has the thankless role of uptight-workaholic-who-loosens-up. Meanwhile, Harry is so thinly drawn it doesn't give Grammer much to work with, nor Bell much to respond to. You spend the entire movie waiting for the other shoe to drop, revealing the ulterior motive for Harry's decision to re-enter his kid's life, and when the proverbial footwear does come crashing down, the revelation is underwhelming, though sweeter than you might have pictured. Writer-director Lauren Miller Rogen is so convinced that Harry is a capital-g Good Guy that she does a disservice to Rachel, whose anger is more than justified. Instead the character just starts to seem unreasonable the more committed Bell gets to portraying her resentment.
On the ship -- it's a ship, not a boat, you see -- Rachel and Harry meet three other couples, each a stereotype. (One pair is gay! Another is black! The third is old!) Also on the open water is a genial Canadian played by Rogen's husband, Seth. He's mainly there as an excuse for a joke about how Seth Rogen has never smoked pot. All these people are meant to show our protagonist the kindness of strangers -- to bastardize Tennessee Williams -- but are mostly just there as cartoon comic relief.
These flaws might be more banal, if not more forgivable, had the film not seemingly had its own ulterior motive for entering your living room. Unfortunately, branding plays a far more significant role than any of the human supporting characters. It's there in the costuming and the extended montages of all the fun you can have while onboard. The cruise footage is bright (especially compared to the New York-based scenes), and it looks like everyone had a swell time. Nice for them. Not so nice for us looking for a fresh take on an old tropes, only to find a Sundance-circa-2007 plot and a ton of not-so-subtle product placement instead.