The clashes of fathers and sons have defined literature dating back to antiquity, but in this, one of the worst films ever to appear at Telluride, the long, tired history seems to have been forgotten altogether, replaced by an arrogance that assumes we need to see yet another dying patriarch and his resentful boy come to terms in the final hours of the old man’s life. Not even Jim Broadbent, a man who could extract entertainment value from reading a phone book, is enough to rescue this hapless parade of clichés; a film so seemingly unaware of cinema’s teeming vaults of melodrama that it sees nothing at all wrong with the standard “ache before the fall,” which is not, thankfully, a foreboding cough, but rather a grunt that signals inoperable cancer. Colin Firth is on hand as Blake, Broadbent’s insufferable monster of a son, for how else to classify a character who, at mid-life, has yet to let go of a father’s affair at least four decades prior? The screenplay is so clueless, in fact, that it asks that we see things from the spoiled brat’s point of view, rather than the father, a man who is, in fact, a pretty decent chap. Sure, he’s loud, and boisterous, and prone to practical jokes and schemes, but he’s unfailingly decent, never so much as lays a finger on the boy, and if truth be told, has a pretty good sense of humor. He’s an obnoxious life force, but as far as dads go, one could do far, far worse. And yet, Blake mopes about for years on end as if he’s been saddled with fucking Claudius.
So dad’s extreme extroversion leads to his infidelity, which only seems to bother the lad at this point, as mom obviously came to terms with it years ago. Sonny boy could learn a thing or two from the woman. You live in paradise, are the child of two successful doctors, and even manage to shag some hot Scottish maid when you’re barely out of puberty, for fuck’s sake. Get over your precious self already and move the fuck on. The film begins in the present, but uses pointless flashbacks to establish the alleged pain and regret, even if there’s no visual evidence on display. Sure, Blake catches his dad kissing another woman during some outing, but based on the reaction, one would think he’d uncovered a storage facility packed to the gills with blood, bile, and neatly stacked body parts. Again, the actors try their best to stay awake throughout this long, dreary mess, but no one but the most forgiving filmgoer could ever be fooled. And based on the applause and festival buzz that followed, the weekend appears to have been populated by fool and fool alike. What were they cheering? The death bed tears? The painful first loves and youthful temptations that have been played out hundreds of times before? And if this, a meaningless slog through predictable family dynamics, could generate goodwill and even hearty recommendations, what on earth would raise an objection?