Greetings again from the darkness. Writer-director Florian Zeller floored me a couple of years ago with his film, THE FATHER (2021). Adapted from Zeller’s own play by screenwriter Christopher Hampton (DANGEROUS LIAISONS, 1988), the film starred Anthony Hopkins who gave a searing performance that provided painful insight into what living with dementia must be like – both for the sufferer and for loved ones. Zeller, Hampton, and Hopkins all won Oscars for that film, and they return for this follow-up … a film that doesn’t hold a candle to its predecessor, despite begging us to think otherwise.
Hugh Jackman stars as Peter, an incredibly busy and important Manhattan lawyer who wears fancy suits, works in a corner office with a view, and attends vital meetings with high-profile clients. Peter has a beautiful wife Beth (Vanessa Kirby) and newborn son, and is on the verge of entering high stakes politics as a consultant when his ex-wife Kate (Oscar winner Laura Dern, MARRIAGE STORY, 2019) knocks on the door of Peter’s and Beth’s charming (and high rent) apartment. Kate informs him that their 17-year-old son Nicholas (Zen McGrath) has skipped school every day for the past month, and now wants to come live with his dad. Convinced he’s a better father than his own, Peter believes he must allow Nicholas to move in, and Beth is so committed to Peter and exhausted from caring for the baby, that she offers no resistance.
Peter is a professional problem solver and somehow this brilliant lawyer believes a couple of lectures and pep talks will cure Nicholas of his teenage blues and get him on the right track towards success. He’s convinced his efforts are working and that Nicholas is improving … right up until the point where it’s obvious, he’s not. How all these folks take so long to recognize mental illness and depression is beyond comprehension. Sure, Nicholas is manipulative; he knows what these adults want to hear, and he tells them. The ridiculous part is they believe him.
The film’s best scene is the one where Peter faces his own father. Two-time Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins is a powerful force as the one who scoffs at Peter’s viewpoint of parenthood, both past and present. This scene could have made a terrific short film and is so insightful that it’s at odds with the balance of the film. Unfortunately, much of the rest plays like a made-for-TV movie with its slick stylings on poor parenting and teenage issues. There are a few moments early on that give off a horror film vibe, but that’s not what this is. Instead, it’s an attempt to reflect modern day parenting and the helpless feelings of guilt we feel when our kids are suffering. Hopefully most parents are a bit more attuned to their teens, and we also hope that most schools don’t wait a full month before alerting parents that their kid has dropped out.
Opens in theaters on January 20, 2022