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quarta-feira, 18 de novembro de 2015

Fathers and Daughters: 'radioactively bad'

A ham-fisted treatment of mental illness, alcoholism and death will be catnip for connoisseurs of bad movies
The script for Fathers and Daughters, by one Brad Desch, was placed on the Black List for Hollywood’s hottest unproduced screenplays in 2012. The now-completed film only makes this comprehensible if “hot” is read to be a synonym for “radioactive”, and the Black List understood as some sort of deep-sea bunker for the disposal of seething nuclear waste. How it has come to light, and been treated to a production every bit as ham-fisted as the writing deserves, are mysteries beyond ordinary human ken.
Russell Crowe “fell apart” when reading it, the story goes. He’s not holding it together on screen too well, either. As a widowed father, mental health casualty and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist called Jake Davis, he barely convinces you his name is Jake Davis. This guy’s custody struggle for a seven-year-old daughter called Katie (Kylie Rogers), whose wealthy aunt (Diane Kruger) and uncle (Bruce Greenwood) think she needs rescuing from Jake’s unstable clutches, takes up about half of the running time.
Reeling from his wife’s sudden death in a car crash, Jake is sent away for treatment, and returns with only one solution to his crippling financial woes. He churns out a book called Bitter Tulips, telling his agent (an endlessly patient Jane Fonda) that it’s the best thing he’s ever written.
Jane Fonda in 'Fathers and Daughters'
Jane Fonda in 'Fathers and Daughters'Credit: Justin Lubin
We’re sceptical, and right to be. His bookshop recital from this magnum opus is pure catnip for bad film connoisseurs. “The rising moon draws the grateful eye. Yes, the tulips are beautiful… for now,” he gives us from the final page. Though the critics are far from kind, autograph hounds besiege Jake, and he has a fit, the worst of several chronic panic attacks.
Persuasively inhabiting mental illness is a difficult wire to walk, acting-wise, and Crowe’s technique here is simply all over the shop – he’s meant to be playing a broken and tormented human being, but let’s just say this isn’t always the effect created.
Meanwhile, 25 years later, Amanda Seyfried gets the other half of the story, as Jake’s now-grown daughter, a social worker specialising in orphans, who is also an emotionally damaged young woman specialising in boozy one night stands. The level of psychological nuance in Desch’s script, not to mention feminist enlightenment, makes EL James look like Virginia Woolf.
Amanda Seyfried and Aaron Paul in 'Fathers and Daughters'
Amanda Seyfried and Aaron Paul in 'Fathers and Daughters'Credit: Justin Lubin
Some very overqualified actors swing by for menial parts they could have done in a lunch break: Janet McTeer as Katie’s shrink, Octavia Spencer as her boss. Quvenzhané Wallis, as one of her damaged case subjects, gets the best deal in the film, mainly because her character has been rendered mute by psychological distress: you wonder if any of her fellow cast members begged to be afforded the same luxury.
Fonda, in one of the more tin-eared moments of exposition, has to remind Jake which book it was that he won a Pulitzer for back in the day. Kruger’s character reaches for alcohol in every scene she gets, sloshing it around in tumblers like a teenage drama student having a go at Edward Albee. Only when Aaron Paul, as an aspiring novelist obsessed with her father’s career, starts dating Seyfried’s Katie can the inevitable healing begin.
Director Gabriele Muccino, who plucked this script from its uncertain fate, is mainly known for coaxing an Oscar-nominated performance out of Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), then immediately humiliating him with the abysmal Seven Pounds (2008). His ability to rope in such pedigreed names feels like some kind of dark art: if he's not the smoothest talker in Hollywood, he must have a very good hypnotist.

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