By Richard Winters
My Rating: 2 out of 10
4-Word Review: Son cares for father.
John (Ted Danson) is a busy executive who learns during one of his business meetings that his mother (Olympia Dukakis) has had a heart attack and rushes back home to care for his father (Jack Lemmon) who isn’t use to doing things on his own. John teaches his father how to do the every day chores while also learning to bond with his own son Billy (Ethan Hawke) who comes to visit. Just as things seem to be getting better and his mother gets out of the hospital it is the father who then gets sick with cancer leading to even further complications.
The film is based on the 1981 novel of the same name by William Wharton, which I’ve never read, but if it’s anything like this script then it’s not too good. One the main problems is the extreme shifts in tone that starts out with elements of Rain Man and then at the halfway mark becomes like a dark satire of incompetent medical delivery in the vein of Hospital and then in the third act turns almost fable-like.
My biggest beef is the pseudo-science that gets thrown in after the father goes to the hospital with his cancer. This is when the old man suddenly without warning starts going delusional and then ultimately into coma only to one day miraculous snap out of it. We’re told that the explanation for this is that the father was so fearful of cancer that the brain produced some sort of enzyme that acted as a defense mechanism that shut off the mind so it wouldn’t have to deal with it and it was the love shown by the son that ultimately allowed the dad to come back to consciousness, but what reputable medical journal has ever discussed this phenomenon? Things get even more ludicrous when the old guy starts thinking he’s on a farm in a different time period and we’re told this is a schizophrenic condition caused by the cancer and everyone needs to play along with it, or he’ll go back into a coma.
Danson, for what it’s worth, gives a strong performance here, probably the best in his otherwise lukewarm film career. I found it frustrating though that his character doesn’t have all that much of an arch. Supposedly he’s self-centered at the start and needs to learn to be caring, but this only gets explained by the character during a long soliloquy during the middle part, when the viewer should’ve instead seen the transition play out. I also thought it was wacky that he’d be allowed to bring in a cot and stay with his father inside his hospital room as I’m pretty sure most doctors would not allow this.
Lemmon’s performance is good too, but I didn’t like how a tuft of white hair was kept on his otherwise balding head as I found it distracting. While it was nice that his character wasn’t a crotchety old man, which has become a bit of a cliche, I found his extreme dependency on his wife, to the point where he allowed her to dress him and even butter his toast despite the fact that he was physically able to do it himself, as pathetic. His later transition to laid-back hippie who wears colorfully garish outfits as he takes on a whole new perspective on life is too jarring and extreme.
The film never comes together as a whole and if anything could’ve been shortened with the first half dealing with the mother’s heart attack taken out and just started with the father’s cancer diagnosis as that’s when the main plot gets going. In either case it tries too hard to be cute while compromising too much on the believability.
My Rating: 2 out of 10
Released: November 10, 1989
Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes
Director: Gary David Goldberg
Studio: Universal Pictures
Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube