This Like Father review contains spoilers.
In the third act of the new Netflix comedy-drama Like Father, workaholic executive Rachel (Kristen Bell) and her estranged father Harry (Kelsey Grammer) enjoy some quiet time together while kayaking. “Maybe Owen wasn’t such a fucker after all,” she says of her ex-fiancé who left her at the altar, forcing her to take their intended honeymoon cruise with Dad. “This was his idea.”
Written and directed by Lauren Miller Rogen, the latest addition to Netflix’s growing catalog of original feature-length films presents a familiar story about an abandoned bride who embarks on a journey of self-discovery and forgiveness. Yet instead of ending said journey with another man—in this case Jeff, played by Seth Rogen—she completes it with her equally career-obsessed father, whose lived life offers her a crude warning of things to come.
“I think maybe I’m an asshole,” Rachel tells a sunglasses-clad Harry aboard their kayak. “Owen and I dated in college, and we eventually broke up and lost touch. I met up with Owen again three months after my mom died. Three months after that he proposed, and I said yes because he felt familiar. Because he felt like family, and I did not want to end up alone the way she did.”
It’s a wonderful moment of self-realization for Rachel, as well as an opportunity for Bell to demonstrate precisely how great she is in the role. But its arrival, just over 70 minutes into Like Father’s 103-minute runtime, feels too little, too late for a movie that bills the character as its chief protagonist. In many ways, she is the star of the show, but throughout the two acts that precede this moment, Rachel is more often than not vilified by the people who surround her, as well as by the film itself.
From the get-go, Rachel is depicted as an unlikable and hard-to-reach individual. When we first meet her, she is on the phone with a client whose deal could potentially secure her company a significant contract (and her a sizable promotion). This in itself isn’t a bad thing at all, but as the camera pans down and out, she’s revealed to be wearing a wedding dress. It’s Rachel’s wedding day and her bridal party is patiently waiting for her to take pictures outside the venue.
When her hidden phone falls out of the bouquet during the ceremony, Owen breaks down over what is apparently an ongoing argument about her work habits and leaves her. All of the invited guests and Harry, whose appearance at the ceremony is a complete surprise to Rachel, are left to watch the bride’s embarrassment unfold from the sidelines. For a bit, Like Father provides little to no assurances to the viewers about who to sympathize with. On the one hand, Owen’s frustration with Rachel are palpable and not unwarranted. On the other hand, he left her at the altar to fend for herself, in front of their friends and family.
That’s when Grammer’s character formally enters the picture. He seeks her out not long after the botched wedding ceremony and, over the course of many, many drinks, manages to accompany her onboard the aforementioned honeymoon cruise. The whole premise sounds like recipe for comedic disaster, and in many ways it is, but as the drama of the pair’s muddled relationship begins to unfold, it becomes clear that Harry requires something of Rachel. Yes, he wants to make up for lost time with his daughter, but by the end of it all, it may leave some feeling uncomfortable about the whole situation.
Consider the moment atop a Jamaican waterfall toward the end of the second act, when tensions between Rachel and Harry are at their most desperate. At the end of a guided hike to a swimming hole, he erupts at his daughter, grabs her cell phone (which she has spent most of the trip on) and tosses it into the water. “I’m worried about you. Look at this place. It’s beautiful! And you’re sending emails,” Harry exclaims. “Are you going to go on pretending you’re still fine with what happened the other day? You can’t admit that all this is fucking crazy?”
He’s not wrong. For most of the movie, Rachel has done everything she can to ignore (if not forget) what happened at the wedding by burying herself in her work. Yet even when he’s seemingly trying to coax her into confronting the wedding-sized elephant in the room, Harry is also trying to set the stage for his own redemption. Hence his speech to her atop the waterfall, where he explains why he left her and her mother so many years ago.
“When I was young, I had a vision of how my life was going to be,” he says. “I never saw myself with a family, and then you came along. I was only 24. I quit work for the first few years. You were the sun in the morning and the moon at night. But something was missing. Started feeling like I was the Dad who was around physically, but wishing he was somewhere else. I didn’t want to be that guy. Your Mom and I decided I should go back to work.”
As Harry continues with his apologetic explanation, Rachel pushes back, accusing him of “[disappearing] completely” instead of stopping by to visit on occasion. In a complete about face, however, Harry insists that he did visit regularly in the beginning, and after a few beats, Rachel suddenly relents and agrees that he did. She even admits she looked him up and prank-called him on occasion when she was younger, a revelation that completely eviscerates her prior protestations against the idea that she ever “Googled” him.
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Coupled with a few significant revelations by Harry in the third act, Life Father’s final half hour morphs into a series of dramatic confrontations and releases paying off much of what came before. As fulfilling as these all may seem, unfortunately, it doesn’t quite come together in the very end. What’s more, Rachel’s sudden turn toward her father—though expected by the story presented to audiences—comes off as being more odd or inappropriate than anything else.
For all we know, had her father not worn her down and finally explained himself at he did at that Jamaican waterfall, Rachel’s path forward might have resulted in something different. Something more independently fulfilling for Bell’s character.