When Did You Last See Your Father?

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Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- Adapted from the novel of the same name by Blake Morrison, "When Did You Last See Your Father?" is a stylishly appointed but monotonous relationship drama that keeps going around in the same, indulgent circles.

Director Anand Tucker does well by his seasoned British cast, but his warts-and-all portrait of a middle-aged man (Colin Firth) coming to terms with the terminal illness of his tough-to-love father (Jim Broadbent) proves to be as brooding and emotionally unavailable as its headstrong protagonists.

While the film, which was also shown in Telluride, could attract some of those who made the 1993 book a bestseller when it's released across the pond early next month, it will unlikely stand out among the season's awards contenders.

Morrison's confessional memoir is seen through the eyes of its 40-year-old author (Firth), whose lifelong, strained relationship with his doctor dad, Arthur (Broadbent) is explored in a series of flashbacks, triggered when Blake must confront the severity of his father's cancer.

What follows are alternating sequences in which a 14-year-old Blake (Matthew Beard) and an 8-year-old Blake (Bradley Johnson) are exposed to various incidents of Daddy behaving badly, be it humiliating him in front of the opposite sex or having a rather close relationship with Blake's "aunt" Beaty (Sarah Lancashire), while his wife (Juliet Stevenson) is busy maintaining their medical practice.

As choreographed by director Tucker ("Shopgirl," "Hilary and Jackie") and screenwriter David Nicholls ("Starter for 10"), all this flitting back and forth in time can get awfully repetitive after a while, and the episodic results have the unfortunate results of making Broadbent's imminent death feel interminable.

Grappling with such a tricky, internally focused character, the usually reliable Firth comes across a bit heavy on the morose side, here. You'll either find yourself empathizing with his burning resentment of his father's behavior or want to give him one of Cher's "Moonstruck" slaps and tell him to snap out of it.

Broadbent, meanwhile, manages to find the ultimate compassion in the elder Morrison, despite his obvious flaws; and Stevenson, playing quite a bit older than usual as his quietly accepting wife, turns in a customarily moving performance.

Technical aspects, including cinematographer Howard Atherton's picture postcard compositions and production designer Alice Normington's thoughtful, multi-period touches, provide an immediacy and warmth otherwise lacking in Tucker's dramatically austere approach.

WHEN DID YOU LAST SEE YOUR FATHER?
Sony Pictures Classics
Credits:
Director: Anand Tucker
Writer: David Nichols
Based on the Novel by Blake Morrison
Producers: Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley
Executive producers: Lizzie Francke, Tessa Ross, Gary Smith, Paul White
Director of photography: Howard Atherton
Production designer: Alice Normington
Music: Barrington Pheloung
Co-producer: Laurie Borg
Costume designer: Caroline Harris
Editor: Trevor Waite
Cast:
Blake Morrison: Colin Firth
Arthur Morrison: Jim Broadbent
Kim Morrison: Juliet Stevenson
Kathy Morrison: Gina McKee, Sandra: Elaine Cassidy
Young Blake (Age 14): Matthew Beard
Young Blake (Age 8): Bradley Johnson
Beaty: Sara Lancashire
Running time -- 92 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
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