When a film is packed with this many notable stars, it’s near impossible to fail. While the plot of Italian director Gabriele Muccino’s Fathers and Daughters privileges emotion and melodrama over an inventive plot, the performances by Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Aaron Paul, Diane Kruger, Jane Fonda and first-timer Kylie Rodgers are enchanting.
New York-based writer Jake Davis (Crowe) is fearful of his ability to care for his angelic 5-year-old daughter, Katie (Rodgers) after a car accident left his wife dead and Jake reeling with repeated seizures and psychotic breaks. He checks himself into a mental health facility for almost a year. Katie is meanwhile left in the gilded care of Aunt Elisabeth (Kruger) and Uncle William (Bruce Greenwood). Upon Jake’s return however, it’s clear that Elisabeth and William will do anything to adopt Katie as their own, including waging an ugly and expensive legal war over the innocent cherub.
Twenty-five years later, older Katie (Seyfried) has grown into an intelligent psychology student and social worker, but is plagued by an inability to forge deep connections, and is demonised by a casual sex habit. Then, of course, it’s only through the entrance of Cameron (Paul), a budding writer and idol of Katie’s father, that she can find potential for emotional stability.
The daddy-issues cliché is almost as questionable as the demonization of Katie’s active sexuality and backhand compliments on the female gender. She declares ‘there’s nothing in here, it’s empty’ and Aunt Elisabeth’s final piece of wisdom is, ‘men can survive without love, but not us women.’ The counsellor-client relationship between Katie and voluntarily mute child Lucy (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a positive digression, bringing warmth with Wallis’ more welcome, subtle acting.
The dual tracks of this film are rhythmically balanced and interwoven by editor Alex Rodriguez. The relatively unchallenging message of how present-day issues are inherited from the past is comfortably illustrated. Visually, the film is lavishly finished by Shane Hurlburt’s photography and Paolo Buonvino’s syrupy score.
Crowe is a believably rumpled and tortured father, with a bearish love for Katie and wit attacking white-collar lawyers and educators. Kruger’s borderline aggressive protection of Katie, while wearing an immaculate plum jumpsuit, only leaves viewers wanting more. Similarly, the illustrious appearance of Jane Fonda as Jake’s affectionate editor, and Octavia Spencer as Katie’s supervisor, lift their marginal and mundane characters with memorable depth.
Fathers and Daughters brings emotion to an indulgent treatment of mental illness and death, with uplifting drama that will warmly embrace you.
Reviewed by Hannah Lally
Rating out of 10: 6
Fathers and Daughter will be released on DVD and Digital from 24 August 2016