'Father' deftly explores complex relationship

When Did You Last See Your Father?

All things considered, if the universe were in any way a fair and just place, the relationship between parent and child would be the height of simplicity: direct, close, and unambiguous.

Instead, children and parents ply the emotional waters of complexity, misunderstanding, inexplicable distances, and walls of remoteness. It's complicated. It's maddening. Often beyond understanding. And the source of great joy and great sadness, sometimes simultaneously.

"When Did You Last See Your Father" (Rated PG-13) explores, with touching and painful insight, using backstory to great effect, the difficult connection between Blake (Colin Firth), as a boy and as a grown man, and his father, Arthur (Jim Broadbent).

Blake, a successful writer and poet, is called back to his boyhood home because his father is dying. Walking through the rooms, standing in the upstairs hallway gazing into his own bedroom, he is transported back to his youth, to his adolescence, and to all those moments when his father was so deeply embedded in his life.

Filled with hope and determination, knowing that time is slipping away, he is determined to build a bridge to his father, wanting to say so many things which have gone unsaid. And yet he discovers, despite his intentions, that intimacy and openness elude him: the words, the courage to insist, are seemingly unavailable.

How to speak to this man to whom he has never really spoken? How to find a modicum of peace with memories that are tarnished with anger and frustration and love? How to cope with an abiding regret for days now past, and for the escalating impotence of the moment?

This film is a powerful and touching narrative of one man's search for a moment of redemption and understanding with his father. The assumption, all too human, has been that there will always be time for resolution. There will be time to erect a new scaffolding that will allow a reconstruction of a relationship which has never been as it should have been.

"When Did You Last See Your Father" is wonderfully cast, with Firth giving a nuanced performance, while Broadbent is perfect as the blustering, unavailable father. Juliet Stevenson is exceptional as the long-suffering wife who endured while refusing to yield.

After months of blockbuster sturm und drang, this is a nugget of a film, not to be missed.

Swing Vote

Another summer miss. Had "Swing Vote" (Rated PG-13) explored the relationship between Bud (Kevin Costner) and his preteen daughter, Holly (Madeline Carroll), in a serious and dramatic way, allowing the film's preposterous premise to remain a mere speed bump, this could have been a solid and engaging film.

But not to be. Instead, the screenwriters construct a wildly improbable plot wherein the national election for president of the United States, which is a dead-on tie, hinges on Bud's deciding vote.

So the nation's press, acting more like the nation's paparazzi, descend on Holly and Bud's hometown of Texico, N.M, surround their double-wide trailer, all eager to get a hint as to how Bud might vote.

Both candidates (Kelsey Grammar and Dennis Hopper) show up &

POTUS in his stretch 747, and the Democrats' nominee in his stretch limo. Act two waxes satirical (or tries) as Bud is wined and dined by the respective handlers (Nathan Lane and Stanley Tucci), with serious manipulation by reporters who would kill for an interview.

This is supposed to be bitingly comedic. Instead it just seems silly and flat and insipid, as is Bud's character. He has never cared one wit about politics or the nation and he's finding it just a tad difficult to bone up on issues he's ignored for a lifetime. Not unlike how he's ignored Molly who has, out of necessity, become the responsible adult in the relationship.

But then Bud is chronically self-absorbed, worried about where his next beer is coming from, unable to hold a job or show up on time for work or remember to attend Molly's bring-your-father-to-school day.

For most of the film he's a likable drunk with few redeeming qualities and it's that persona that is firmly established and hard to forget, no matter that the film reaches for a moment of feel-good redemption.

Regarding the question as to who Bud picks for president? Credits roll before the results of his ballot are made known.

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