We’ve seen this scene in approximately a thousand rom-coms before: wedding bells, a blond in a white dress, a jaunty Motown song. But the one in Like Father comes way too soon to be good news, and the lead-up to the chorus of the Supremes’ “Come See About Me” doesn’t bode very well either. (“Smiles have all turned to tears/But tears won’t wash away the fears/That you’re never ever gonna return.”)
Rachel (Kristen Bell) is the blond, a Type-A ad executive so dedicated to her job that she’s still dictating last-minute campaign details on her iPhone when the final notes of “Here Comes the Bride” trail off. Spoiler, this is not the entrance her groom was hoping for — or the ceremony her long-estranged father, Harry (Kelsey Grammer), slipped in to see. But it is Rachel’s cue to drag Harry on what would have been her honeymoon cruise, and possibly reconnect with the man she hasn’t heard from in over 25 years.
If that doesn’t sound like an especially promising romantic-comedy setup, writer-director Lauren Miller Rogen (who co-wrote and starred in 2012’s underrated phone-sex comedy For a Good Time Call…) doesn’t seem like she’s strictly aiming for one anyway; Father is really part family dramedy, part Royal Caribbean advertorial with a splash of extracurricular lust — mostly in the form of Miller Rogen’s real-life movie-star husband, Seth, as a Canadian grammar-school teacher with his own painful relationship memories to bury at sea.
The movie’s arc is too conventional by half, but the appeal of the two main actors keeps it (sorry) afloat, maybe more than it should: Grammer, tanned and handsomely bearish in late mid-life, makes Harry more than a heedless cad; he’s blown it, but he knows it. And Bell, with her Kewpie-doll intensity, brings something spiky and real to her tightly wound workaholic.
It’s hard not to wish there were more scenes that tapped into the darker honesty lurking at the edges of the script, and fewer focused on the many wonders of the ship’s swooshing waterslides and seafood buffets. (Even Harry and Rachel’s assigned table-mates, who become their supporting costars, seem cast as if by Noah’s Arc diversity rules: one black couple, one elderly, one gay). Where Father settles instead is a sort of breezily watchable no man’s land — the kind of story happy to break a few little waves, and then just glide by. B