When Did You Last See Your Father?
Thu, Jul 3, 2008 (midnight)
Based on the memoir by British poet and novelist Blake Morrison,When Did You Last See Your Father? is a low-key, somber account of the writer’s ruminations and memories as his father lays dying. Played as an adult by Colin Firth and as a teen by Matthew Beard, Blake comes off as a sort of sullen, mopey guy who never really gave his dad, doctor and somewhat boorish philanderer Arthur (Broadbent), the credit he deserved. Alternating Blake’s flashbacks to his childhood with his present-day efforts to come to terms with Arthur’s impending demise, the movie illuminates little about father-son relationships, and only avoids being unbearably treacly by sapping all the life from nearly every scene (and not just the death-bed ones).
- When Did You Last See Your Father?
- Jim Broadbent, Colin Firth, Matthew Beard, Juliet Stevenson
- Directed by Anand Tucker
- Rated PG-13
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Broadbent is the movie’s one bright spot, giving Arthur a nice balance of insensitivity and soul. The guy doesn’t understand his son’s desire to spend all his time reading, or his interest in becoming a poet, or his general shyness. But he muddles through as best he can, and even when Arthur is off having a dalliance with Blake’s “auntie” while Blake and his sister play nearby, he still comes off as a mostly well-meaning dolt.
Without any great tragedies to come to terms with, either in the past or the present, Blake just spends 80 or so minutes (the movie is concise, at least) realizing that he loves his father and will miss him now that he’s gone. Perhaps in the book, this introspection has more heft to it, but Firth doesn’t bring that out in his performance, and the flashbacks don’t give a full sense of where Blake’s long-held resentment came from. Beard and Firth also come off like two entirely different people, adding to the disconnect between Blake’s early life and his adult attitudes toward his father.
Tucker keeps things subdued almost to the point of inertia, as he did in his last film, 2005’s Shopgirl, and the restraint prevents the movie from plumbing the deep emotional well of grief and familial tension. Instead it floats along unconvincingly, relying on Broadbent’s earthiness and Firth’s gloominess to sell what the script and direction can’t. If it were more maudlin, it’d be a cheesy TV movie, but then it might at least have greater feeling to it