'The Steps': TIFF Review

Courtesy of The Toronto International Film Festival
A sour and baldly formulaic blended-family fantasy.

James Brolin plays a failed father trying to make things right.

A blended-family comedy that can hardly hit a note that rings true, Andrew Currie's The Steps follows its genre's formula so blatantly one suspects first-time scribe Robyn Harding wrote it after a weeklong Netflix bender. Or perhaps during it, with one finger on the Pause button so as not to miss other films' insights about how, gosh darn it, family is all that matters. Commercial prospects are bleak for a film this overfamiliar and underfunny, despite the presence of familiar faces.

Jason Ritter plays Jeff, the high-achieving son whose life (got your genre checklist handy?) is actually a shambles, despite all his talk about his high-paying job and beautiful fiancee. Emmanuelle Chriqui is his sister Marla, whose Daddy issues cause her to go to bed with any guy who asks. They fear the worst when their rich but neglectful father (James Brolin) invites them up to a Canadian lake house he just built for his new wife (Christine Lahti), and though they accept the invitation, they're not going to be good sports about it.

Their poisonous attitude doesn't improve despite a very warm welcome, in which their stepmom bends over backward to get them comfortable with three new adult stepbrothers (each sired by a different father) and one step-sister-in-law. That sister-in-law, Kate Corbett's wide-eyed Canuck, sweetly overimpressed by Marla's big-city clothes and attitude, represents practically the only bright (if dim-witted) spot in this miserable scene — a stew of sarcasm, defensiveness and desperation that only gets worse when we hear the weekend's agenda: The retirement-aged lovebirds have decided to adopt a little Chinese girl, and need their real kids to resemble a loving family by Monday, when a social worker will come by to interview the prospective family.

The road is rocky, as you may have guessed. "It's not easy blending a family, especially when there are so many unique personalities," Brolin says sagely at one point. But though he's playing a newspaper publisher, he doesn't seem to know what "unique" means. These are cardboard people, and while some cast members work to breathe some novelty into them (Ritter's frenzied encounter with a pair of nunchucks comes to mind), Currie doesn't get much out of the cast as a whole.

Then, after an hour-plus of proving what jerks nearly all the house's inhabitants are, he expects us to root for them to put on a good enough show to be given custody of a sweet, helpless child. Little Mingmei would be better off in a Dickens story

 

 

Production company: Quadrant Motion Pictures Inc

Cast: Jason Ritter, Emmanuelle Chriqui, James Brolin, Christine Lahti, Vinay Virmani, Benjamin Arthur, Steven McCarthy

Director: Andrew Currie

Screenwriter: Robyn Harding

Producers: Mary Anne Waterhouse, Daniel Iron, Andrew Currie, Jason James

Executive producers: Anne-Claire Villeneuve, Mark Slone, Neil Tabatznik, Robyn Harding

Director of photography: Bob Aschmann

Production designer: Naz Goshtasbpour

Costume designer: Joanna Syrokomla    

Editor: Jorge Weisz

Music: Todor Kobakov, Ian LeFeuvre

Casting director:

Sales: Seville International

 

No rating, 99 minutes

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