While there’s currently a lot of talk about Florian Zeller‘s The Father thanks to its multiple Oscar nominations, there’s a similarly titled film currently showing at SXSW Online.
Bradley Grant Smith‘s Our Father won’t garner the awards attention of its more well known sibling, but it’s an indie drama that similarly addresses the widening relationship gap between a father and their child.
Or in this case, children. But the father isn’t alive in this story. The film begins by reuniting sisters Beta and Zelda (Baize Buzan and Allison Torem, respectively), two very different twentysomething women who don’t have much of a relationship. But they’re reacquainted with each other when they discover that their father has committed suicide.
However, their relationship is not the only fraught complexity within their family. They also have three half-brothers thanks to their father’s affairs when he was alive, which creates a tension between the barely-held-together family who never see each other despite residing in the same city.
When Beta and Zelda discover that their father left money in his will to a mysterious uncle named Jerry – a supposed “religious nut” who vanished thirty years ago – they set out to find him. This leads to a mini-adventure of sorts around their Alabama city as they try to find this unknown familial link that they hope can make their family finally make sense.
Although described as a comedy-drama, the film works better as an intimate drama. The attempts at comedy are small and usually don’t quite fit. Considering this is a film revolving around a suicide, and contains one of the sisters frequently self-harming, the comedy feels out of place, especially when it’s not really of the dark variety anyway.
What does work is Beta and Zelda’s conflicting relationship. They clearly love each other, but are simply two very different people without much in common. They strive to get along but have no real connection to each other, and their attempts to help one another with their problems only leads to a bigger chasm between them.
Even though the crux of the film revolves around the search for Jerry, it’s more about two siblings realising that they – and their wider family – aren’t destined to be close, and how that’s okay. Their father’s death may have temporarily brought them together, but the films posits that they need to focus on self-help rather than rehashing problems from the past.
Beta is on the precipice of going to graduate school in Boston, while Zelda has a fraught relationship with an older boyfriend (Tim Hopper). They have their own lives to figure out, and while it would be nice for them to have a relationship, they would just be forcing it at this point.
Buzan and Torem lead the film exceptionally well, their conflicting personalities bouncing off each other impressively. It’s immediately clear that these two hung out in different crowds from day one.
Various characters pop up during their quest to find Jerry – including another Jerry – but the hit rate is average. Some are used to push the plot forward, while others are intended to be comedic detours. As mentioned, the comedy in the film doesn’t really fit. While these scenes don’t hinder the film dramatically, they don’t exactly help it either.
Our Father is a well-shot, well-acted comedy-drama that could have benefited from less of the former and a deeper focus on the latter. In some ways the film feels small because, despite its subject matter, it isn’t aiming for grand statements about life. But the small familial hang ups it does address work well, and the film is capped off with an emotionally affecting ending.
The film is currently showing at SXSW Online.