At the risk of sounding unmanly, I have to admit I enjoy mushy weepers like And When Did You Last See Your Father?, at least every once in a while, in the privacy of my own home, blinds closed so the neighbors won’t judge me. Of course, not every mushy weeper is created equal. The Brits seem to have a knack for assembling this kind of irresistible schmaltz, and this oh-so-British movie nicely delivers all the prime elements.
As expected, the cinematography is unhurried and atmospheric—lots of rainy English countrysides and dark, cozy pubs. Violins, cellos and pianos fill up the space between words with standard, quasi-classical lushness. The lead character, Blake (Colin Firth, Bridget Jones’s Diary), is even a poet. (Isn’t that precious?)
Early on we learn that Blake’s dad, Arthur (Jim Broadbent, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), is dying of cancer, and that Blake seems largely relieved about this. And When Did You Last See Your Father? then jumps around between different periods in Blake’s life to illuminate the troubled relationship between father and son. We find out everybody loves little Blake’s daddy except for Blake himself, partly because Arthur is a jolly, drunken clown who cheats on Blake’s mum every chance he gets.
Arthur is the kind of pushy loudmouth who tends to get what he wants simply by talking and talking and talking till the world bends to his drunken will. In certain scenes, he reminded me of a British Rodney Dangerfield, the sort of bloke who tells a witty, off-color joke one moment and barfs on your carpet the next.
Blake is very different from his dad. For one thing, he’s painfully sensitive. (Poets are always painfully sensitive, at least in the movies.) But he’s also morbid. He fixates on nuclear annihilation. He even fantasizes about executing his father with an assault rifle.
Everyone has hated someone they love at some point in their lives. Most people have even wished their loved ones dead. It’s human nature. Not much we can do about it. But Blake lacks the good sense to keep his violent fantasies to himself. Thankfully, an enjoyable side plot involving a tryst between Blake and the family’s maid, Sandra, makes our hero seem a bit less bleak and self-absorbed than he would otherwise.
This kind of film wouldn’t be tolerable without rock-solid acting, and these performances are about as close to flawless as you can get. It helps that Firth looks as if he actually might be related to Broadbent, who puts in an immaculate showing as the philandering, googly-eyed Arthur. Elaine Cassidy (The Others, Disco Pigs) as Sandra, the smokin’-hot maid, is dazzling in every one of her scenes. Likewise, Juliet Stephenson’s turn as the mom is nicely understated through most of the movie and gut-wrenching in its final moments.
The movie has a couple good masturbation scenes to make it seem edgier than it really is, but, for the most part, you’ve seen this movie before. That said, even though And When Did You Last See Your Father? is almost trite in its predictability, it’s still extremely charming and enjoyable.
Another plus is that the fragmented, nonlinear structure of the film is much less annoying than in other artsy movies, partly because there are only a handful of major characters, all of whom have very well-defined personalities. So it’s easy to follow their entwined stories even when they’re played by different actors in different time periods. The trajectory of these stories is largely obvious, but Tucker and his impressive cast get lots of mileage out of familiar material.
Bring some Kleenex, or at least wear long sleeves. This is a crier. If you get caught blubbering in public, you’ll want to be prepared.