July 09, 2008

When Did You Last See Your Father?

That's "Oscar-winning actor Jim Broadbent" to you...

Grade: B

Director: Anand Tucker

Starring: Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent, Matthew Beard, Juliet Stevenson, Gina McKee, and Elaine Cassidy

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Adapted from English author Blake Morrison’s best-selling memoir, When Did You Last See Your Father? dissects the loving yet uneasy relationship between Blake and his father, Arthur (Jim Broadbent). The narrative oscillates between the 1950s, which details Blake’s (Matthew Beard) restless youth, and 1989, when Blake (Colin Firth) returns home to stand watch over his cancer-riddled father’s deathbed.

David Nicholls’ deliberate, treacly screenplay drops few bombshells save an extended subplot involving Arthur’s apparent marital infidelity. While the love-hate relationship between Blake and Arthur suggests the filmmakers want to “have it both ways,” the simple fact is often the nature of a child’s connection with their parents is more complicated – and conventional – than
The Great Santini or Big Fish.

The always-reliable Broadbent skillfully manages to flesh out Arthur’s flaws and peccadilloes without allowing them to eclipse his zest, affability, and paternal devotion, thereby forming the character’s paradox and, hence, the film’s crux. Firth, Beard, and Juliet Stevenson, as Blake’s long-suffering mother, round out the sound cast.

However, the true star is director Anand Tucker, who follows his work in
Hilary and Jackie and Shopgirl with an exquisite production that makes ample use of all the filmmaking ingredients at this disposal – sweeping camerawork; chiaroscuro; mirrored reflections; the bucolic English countryside; etc. Tucker’s work is sublime without becoming showy, and his sumptuous palette showcases an achingly genuine story that will leave you, too, pondering the titular question.

Neil Morris

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