Netflix’s new feature comedy starring Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer is unremarkable in every way except one: It’s barely funny.
Like Father, written and directed by Lauren Miller Rogen (For a Good Time, Call … ), arrived on Netflix on Friday, in the wake of the unexpectedly viral rom-com hit Set It Up. Unlike that film it boasts bona fide stars, including Kristen Bell as a workaholic New York account executive and Grammer as her father. In Like Father’s opening scenes, Rachel (Bell) is due to get married, but her addiction to her job (she’s so attached to her cellphone that she stashes it in her bouquet) spurs her fiancé to call the whole thing off. Harry (Grammer), Rachel’s long-estranged dad, shows up unexpectedly, sweeping a numb Rachel out for consolatory Manhattans. Inevitably, they wake up crushingly hungover on Rachel’s honeymoon cruise.
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If Harry weren’t Rachel’s father, this would all be a predictably zany meet-cute, wherein an odd couple accidentally gets trashed and winds up stuck with each other for a specified period of time. The awkwardly sexual subtext of their shenanigans hangs around the first half of the movie, as the pair are repeatedly congratulated on their happiness by fellow honeymooners and forced to keep sharing their one-bedroom suite. More awkward, though, is the fact that they don’t know each other at all. While Harry makes overtures toward getting acquainted with his daughter, a truculent Rachel only cares about cellphone service and getting back to work as soon as possible.
On the cruise, the pair are surrounded by sidekicks who feel uncomfortably trope-ish: a gay couple intent on healing the breach between father and daughter, a black couple from Wichita, an older couple celebrating their anniversary. Seth Rogen, Miller Rogen’s real-life husband, plays a divorcé from Edmonton who’s mostly around to show the icy depths of Rachel’s cold heart. More thrilling is the ship itself, portrayed so generously and in such lavish detail that you might question whether this is all just an extended marketing scheme to make cruises cool again. Harry learns to surf; Rachel eats boysenberry pancakes at the extravagant breakfast buffet. The pair drinks cocktails made by a robot bartender, they play mini-golf, they go zip-lining, they participate in something called a Gigantic Game Show. Amid all this organized fun, Like Father asks, how could they not have an epiphany about the nature of work-life balance? How indeed.
Miller Rogen’s direction is assured but adds to the tonal confusion—she seems to employ a handheld camera in some emotional scenes that makes the movie feel more like an indie sleeper hit than the raucous, cathartic comedy you might expect. It’s Grammer, oddly, who seems most at ease. Despite his Jimmy Buffett tan and twinkling blue eyes, he brings real pathos to Harry’s late-career crisis, and is subtle in the role without feeling muted. (He also shines in the film’s great triumph: a karaoke scene that takes advantage of Grammer’s estimable musical-theater chops.)