Italian helmer Gabriele Muccino has found his greatest stateside success with the maudlin parent/child dramedy The Pursuit of Happyness, which introduced the world to Will Smith's then-adorable son, Jaden. But he's been in a tailspin ever since, with the lowest ebb the overdramatic and undercooked Seven Pounds, a film that makes Muccino's mercenary work on junky soccer rom-com Playing for Keeps seem like a wise course of action. Muccino's latest is another histrionic piece about the connection between parent and child, the boringly-titled Fathers and Daughters, and despite a starry cast it's just another cloying sap fest.
Split between two time periods, both equally heavy-handed, Fathers and Daughters stars Russell Crowe as Jake Davis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author trying to raise his 5-year-old daughter Katie (Kylie Rogers then, Amanda Seyfried as an adult) alone after his wife was killed in an accident. As if that wasn't enough, Muccino piles on the grief like a free buffet at Golden Corral. Nerve damage he suffered has made writing nearly impossible, and to make matters worse Jake is slowly but surely losing his mind. He also needs a hit book after his last one, the unfortunately-titled "Bitter Tulips" (Who would buy that??) flopped hard even though he thought it his masterpiece. Oh, and he might lose Katie to his reprehensible in-laws (Diane Kruger and Bruce Greenwood) still holding a grudge over the accident.
Throughout all of the pitfalls placed ahead of him, Jake remains a loyal and caring father to Katie, which makes the personal demons she suffers from as an adult difficult to connect with her childhood. But Muccino takes a valiant effort to do it, anyway. Twenty-seven years later and Katie is in college seeking a psychology degree. She's the classic case of a therapist who is more screwed up than any of her patients could ever hope to be. Intimacy issues abound as Katie sleeps with literally any guy who'll speak to her, and when she finds one who actually loves her (played her former Big Love co-star Aaron Paul) she ruins it. Those self-destructive tendencies aren't helping her to treat a young patient (Quvenzhane Wallis) coping with far more tragic circumstances than Katie ever had to go through.
In typical Muccino fashion the dialogue is corny and strangely on-the-nose, such as Katie's insistence, "I don't love. I'm an empty well. There's nothing in here". Okay we get it.
Jake eventually writes a massively successful book. Can you guess what the title of it was? "Fathers and Daughters", of course, apparently about the dull upbringing his daughter had. Somehow everybody loved it, but it's tough to figure out why. It's also a little absurd that Katie, a psych major, can't pick up on her own daddy issues, especially with the utter lack of subtlety Muccino tries to drive the connection home. Seyfried makes the most of an under-written and poorly conceived character, while Crowe is perhaps the most sympathetic he's ever been. It could be because we feel bad for him being stuck with this screenplay, but whatever the reason you can't help but feel for the guy. Crowe does seem to have formed a genuine bond with Rogers in the many scenes they share together.
Jane Fonda, Octavia Spencer, and Janet McTeer co-star, making for such an impressive list of Oscar winners and nominees you have to wonder if they all signed on just to work with one another. Surely it wasn't for the material, which is so heavy on theatrics it may have been better served going full-on camp.
Rating: 2 out of 5