Fathers and Mothers

FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS. Starring: Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Kylie Rodgers, Diane Kruger, Aaron Paul, Jane Fonda, and Bruce Greenwood. Directed by Gabriele Muccino. Rated M (Sex scenes, sexual references and infrequent coarse language). 111min.

This American-Italian drama is based on a script written by Brad Desch in 2012. It tells a story, set in the 1980s, of a mentally ill Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who survives a tragic car accident. Carrying its scars, he tries to support his young daughter to whom he is devoted. Brad Desch wrote the script for the movie.

Russell Crowe takes the part of author, Jake Davis, who has a breakdown following the loss of his wife. He finds it virtually impossible to keep his mental equilibrium as a widower and a loving father to his daughter, Katie. The film shows frequent flashbacks of Katie as a grown woman (Amanda Seyfried), and as a young child (Kylie Rodgers).

After the accident, Jake checks himself into a mental health institute that treats him for the head injury he sustained in the crash. His injuries cause repeated seizures and psychotic breaks, which disrupt his life and his capacity to care for Katie. Because Jake's wife was killed when he lost control of his car, and at the time when he was engaged in a heated argument with her, he is wracked with guilt. Katie survived, and his injuries force Jake to ask his sister-in-law, Elizabeth (Diane Kruger) to help him look after her. Elizabeth and her husband, William (Bruce Greenwood) agree to look after Katie while he is hospitalised, but plot to take his daughter away from him. Elizabeth blames Jake for killing her only sister, and wants Katie in her own family.

The movie has a good cast. Russell Crowe plays the anguished, conflicted, and devoted father well. Amanda Seyfried plays his 27-year old daughter with suitable fragility. Diane Kruger is cold and steely as Katie's alcohol-dependent aunt, who has sinister motives. Jane Fonda impressively plays a supporting part on the side-line as Jake's tough, understanding Book Editor, and Aaron Paul plays Katie's genuine love interest, Cameron, with sensitivity. Cameron aims to be as good a novelist as Katie's father, which poses obvious problems for a mixed-up Katie, who feels she has passed from childhood to adulthood by never learning properly how to hold on to genuine love.

The movie heavily mixes romance, drama, and sentiment. The complexities of the plot-line pose serious dramatic challenges for sensitive scripting, and it is unfortunate that the film is saddled with a poor script. The film narrates Kate's childhood at the same time as it delves into Katie's adult life. Kylie Rodgers gives a strong performance as young Katie, but things get particularly murky, when Katie as a young woman engages in self-destructive drinking, and sexual propositioning of men in bars for one night stands. She mistakenly thinks that her errant behaviour will regain some of the stability that life has denied her.

A lot of melodrama unfolds as the film proceeds, and the film aims to communicate a set of obvious messages: family ties must be strong enough to overcome traumas experienced in youth, family dysfunction should be endured, and mental breakdown must be understood and tolerated in one's parents. And pain always can be expected to accompany love. The universal wisdom of those messages, however, is not well developed distinctively in the film, and the movie doesn't bring its issues effectively to a good dramatic resolution. This film is essentially about loss, bereavement and separation. It struggles to find its emotional depth, and it lacks emotional realism.

The actors in the film find it difficult to get past the story-line, and there is a Mills-and-Boon tone to the script that doesn't help them. We see some seasoned professionals in action, however, but in that respect also, the film disappoints. Russell Crowe is one of Australia's finest actors, and this movie is a disappointing vehicle for his many talents.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Twentieth Century Fox

Released May 4th., 2016