We are here to talk about a nice little comfort movie called “Like Father,” which you can watch at home (if you’re a Netflix subscriber) with your significant other or your parents or by yourself with your favorite beverage and snack food.
It’s the kind of movie where you can see the karaoke scene coming, and the backup players are from the Supporting Characters Handbook, and you can guess how it’s going to end — but that’s the point, right? When you’re curled up on the sofa, you’re not looking to have the blanket pulled out from under you.
More on “Like Father” in a moment. First, a few words about Netflix.
Calling up the homepage for Netflix is like unfolding one of those giant, multi-page laminated menus in a themed restaurant, where there are so many choices you’re almost afraid to look at the BACK of the thing for fear there will be even more offerings.
Wait, Jerry Seinfeld picked up Alec Baldwin in a vintage car for MORE coffee and conversation? There are fresh episodes of “Arrested Development”? I thought David Letterman was retired; what’s he up to? And shouldn’t I know who that comic is, given he has yet another new stand-up special?
Don’t get me wrong: A lot of this stuff is GREAT. It’s just that keeping up with Netflix sometimes feels like a second job.
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Not to mention the seemingly endless offerings of Netflix Original Movies, with titles such as “Dude” and “Tramps” and “Forgive Us Our Debts” and “Death Note” and “Game Over Man!”
Some of these films are quite good. Most are not. At times it feels as if Netflix Original Movies are the cinematic equivalent of Roy McAvoy on the 18th hole of the U.S. Open in “Tin Cup,” stubbornly taking swing after swing in the hopes of finally getting over that water hazard.
So here we go with the Netflix Original Movie “Like Father,” from Lauren Miller Rogen, who displays a nice ear for dialogue and a light, deft touch as a director while telling a story that at times feels like tidy wish fulfillment for any adult who was abandoned by a parent at an early age and finally has the opportunity to reconnect with the jerk.
Kristen Bell is in familiar territory (and delivers fine work) as Rachel, a tightly wound, career-obsessed professional who is on the phone with a client even as the band is playing “Here Comes the Bride” at her wedding.
In a rapid-fire series of plot machinations, Rachel’s groom-to-be leaves her at the altar, Rachel has a meltdown at work, Rachel gets smashed with her estranged father Harry (Kelsey Grammer), whom she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl — and Rachel and Harry make a rash, alcohol-soaked decision to board a ship for the two-week cruise Rachel was SUPPOSED to be sharing with her newly minted husband on their honeymoon.
Cue the running jokes about passengers and staffers mistakenly believing Rachel and Harry are on their honeymoon — until Harry tells their tablemates, “I’m Harry, Rachel’s dad. … I left her when she was 5 years old. It’s unforgivable, I know …”
On the cruise, Harry and Rachel become friends with a gay couple, who are thinking about adopting a child; newlyweds who are on their second marriage and hoping they get it right this time, and an older couple celebrating decades of wedded bliss.
(Meanwhile, in an effectively low-key performance, Seth Rogen — husband of the writer-director — pops up as “Jeff, from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada,” a nice guy who has recently been divorced and takes a shine to Rachel.)
Of course these lovely people become attached to Harry and Rachel, and actively root for them to resolve 25 years of estrangement and resentment through cruise ship comedy competitions, zip-lining, intense talk against the backdrop of an idyllic waterfall and the aforementioned karaoke duet.
Of course there are some big-time misunderstandings and more than a few tears shed along the way.
Of course there are moments when Rachel can’t believe she let Harry into her life after all these years.
We’ll leave it at that and invite you to enjoy the safe and likable buffet to follow.
Bell and Grammer are wonderful playing off one another. Funny when the moment calls for funny, authentic and believable when the moment calls for substantive drama.
Congrats, Netflix Original Movies. You just raised your batting average by a couple of points. Keep swinging away!
Netflix presents a film written and directed by Lauren Miller Rogen. No MPAA rating. Running time: 98 minutes. Premieres Friday on Netflix.