Netflix’s “Like Father” is a generic melodrama starring two likable actors best known for their work on TV which manages to drag out to nearly two hours the predictable story of a work-obsessed woman (Kristen Bell) who gets dumped at the altar and winds up taking the prepaid honeymoon cruise with her estranged father (Kelsey Grammer) instead of the man she planned to marry. It’s shot in anamorphic widescreen, as if it were intended for the big screen (there’s one shot that justifies the choice), and features bona fide movie star Seth Rogen (who’s hitched to the film’s director, Lauren Miller Rogen), which means that under slightly different circumstances, you could be skipping this movie in theaters rather than on Netflix.
Now hold that thought, because I’m going to change the subject to discuss another movie that, if you do your viewing at home anyway, you might check out instead. Two years ago, another female director, Maren Ade, made a Cannes-selected, Oscar-nominated comedy called “Toni Erdmann,” about an incorrigible practical jokester who was kind of a pain and not at all a great dad. This guy decides he wants to fix things with his overachieving daughter, tagging along on a business trip to Romania and making a general nuisance of himself.
It’s a terrific film, full of outrageous set-pieces and those uncomfortably realistic confrontations that make audiences squirm in their seats. Granted, “Toni Erdmann” is on the long side, a bit shaggy in places, and when I first saw it, I remember thinking: If this movie had been made in Hollywood, the script would be much tighter, but they would lose everything that makes it charming and funny and real. And then it was announced that someone wanted to do a Hollywood remake.
“Like Father” isn’t that project, but it may as well be. Like “Toni Erdmann,” it’s got father-daughter tension, a young woman who’s practically glued to her phone at all times, plenty of situations in which she seems terribly embarrassed by association with her dad, and a finale in which singing karaoke instigates the obligatory reconciliation. It also happens to be dead on arrival: a curiously unfunny collection of obvious scenes (like the one where Dad grabs her phone and tosses it into the waterfall, or when she nixes Jimmy Buffett for their big number, only to have the song play out in full on the soundtrack) with none of the spark or spontaneity that would make them feel real.
Although it’s hard to imagine anyone but Netflix greenlighting such a lackluster screenplay (I imagine 60 pages with the words “Insert hilarious montage here” repeated five or six times throughout), as first features go, this one looks great, so perhaps it will land writer-director Miller Rogen future helming opportunities. This one feels suspiciously like a commercial for Royal Caribbean cruises — can it be a coincidence that the film’s gently teasing sense of humor never outright criticizes the food, or the guests, or the seasickness, or the on-board entertainment, and instead presents it all as the ideal place to put old differences to rest? So, if you like piña coladas, or movies in which severe childhood trauma can be hugged out on an ocean cruise, then you’ll like “Like Father.” For everyone else, skip the imitation and seek out “Toni Erdmann” instead.