Positioned as a memory play When Did You Last See Your Father? attempts to explore the lifelong relationship between a father dying of terminal cancer and his son told through flashbacks and present-day scenes. Arthur Morrison (Broadbent) and his wife Kim (Juliet Stevenson) are both doctors in a small town in England. They have two kids Gillian (Claire Skinner) and older brother Blake (Firth) who is now an author in his 40s with two kids of his own. The story revolves around how Blake tries to come to terms with his father’s mortality and freely travels in time opening with a sequence in which the 8-year-old Blake experiences an embarrassing car incident as his father drives the family to an event. As the film hops and skips through the family’s life--past and present--we see sad and happy moments focusing on Blake’s teen years and early career where dad always seems to upstage him to become the center of attention. Played out against the drama of Arthur’s imminent death Blake grows to accept it--and all that has come before. Although there is a fine supporting cast the film is what they call in the business a two-hander--a searing drama focusing on the relationship between father and son as played by two of Britain’s finest Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent and Colin Firth. They are both superb and by the very nature of the film given great opportunity to show their acting chops. It is Broadbent’s film right from the beginning however as his Arthur spans 40 years while Firth’s role is shared by some other fine actors (Bradley Johnson Matthew Beard) playing younger versions of Blake. Broadbent gives one of those dominating over-the-top confounding portrayals of a proud man whose immense presence permeates every aspect of his son’s life. Against this kind of formidable competition Firth is wonderfully understated and particularly effective in the film’s final few scenes. Stevenson and Skinner along with Gina McKee as the grown Blake’s wife handle the less demanding female roles with skill and compassion. Director Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) doesn’t try to overpower the simple and literate story with any tricks instead letting When Did You Last See Your Father? live and breathe on its own powered by exceptional performances and a first-rate screenplay by David Nichols. Although the film is based on the actual memoir by the real-life Blake Morrison the story itself is universal and earns its laughs--and particularly its tears--by telling universal truths all of us can identify with. Tucker proves himself to be a fine actor’s director especially with Broadbent whose blustery character could have sailed out of control. Instead we understand this man even if we don’t always like him and much of that is due to the nicely nuanced command Tucker has over the proceedings. A small intimate film with numerous flashbacks like this one is trickier than it looks but ultimately it touches the heart and proves a worthwhile journey perfectly timed for Father’s Day.
With a diverse range extending from bubblegum early rock 'n' roll hits like "Splish Splash" to American pop standards like "Mack the Knife" to Vegas show-stoppers like "Hello Young Lovers" to self-penned war-protesting folk tunes like "Simple Song of Freedom " Darin certainly has a compelling story arc chasing fame and fortune from a young age because of a serious heart condition that makes an early demise inevitable. Darin manages to defy the fatal odds against him and emerges as a top-selling singing sensation and even an Oscar-nominated actor while his hard-driving never-say-die odyssey through celebrity includes romance with the gorgeous young matinee idol Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) and surprising revelations about his past. Yet like the title of one of his hits "More " nothing ever seems to be enough for the singer who must learn how to truly live in the midst of his seemingly packed life until he finally succumbs to his heart disease at the age of 37.
We know what you're thinking: didn't Bobby Darin hit it big in his early 20s? How the heck in his mid-forties is even Mr. Two-Time-Oscar-Winner going to pull that off? Well Spacey does and he doesn't. Sure he's too old to be literally believed as the early Darin but the film's clever framing sequence and fourth-wall-breaking techniques tell the story as though Darin is looking back at his life and "plugging in" the more mature version of Spacey-as-Darin throughout--and it helps that Darin is not as recognizable an icon to today's audiences as say Elvis or Sinatra. With that nifty feat accomplished Spacey is more than up to the task of capturing the singer's "I want it all yesterday" temperament as well as his distinctive vocals. Darin purists may have preferred that the film used the singer's actual tracks but given that Spacey insisted on singing the songs himself his vocal mimicry is as convincing as can be imagined. Bosworth (Win a Date With Tad
Hamilton) is as poodle-skirt-cute as Sandra Dee should be and adds a nice touch of Hollywood actress insecurity as well. However the vast age difference between Bosworth and Spacey is a tad creepy and their chemistry as both lovers and fighters doesn't really combust on screen. Supporting players Caroline Aaron and Bob Hoskins come close to stealing scenes even from the likes of Spacey--and that's as high a compliment as can be bestowed.
Even if you are a fan of Spacey or not his cinematic execution while not entirely razzle-dazzle in the non-musical sequences is quite competent making the most of the era's settings--especially old Hollywood and the lush lounge environs Darin prowled. Nods also go to the film conventions of the time. His deft direction combined with his always-engrossing performance manages to overcome and liven up the screenplay's often considerably lame dialogue. And those musical sequences! Whenever the story starts to meander Spacey cleverly slides in a 50s-style song-and-dance number or swinging lounge lizard set to goose up the proceedings.
Cambridge-educated Tony Wilson is a young but established TV journalist in Manchester who is fed up with his silly assignments be they hang-gliding adventures or an interview with a midget who cares for elephants. When one evening he catches an unknown band called the Sex Pistols at a poorly attended show he becomes a believer in what is the new and rebellious punk movement. Taking a chance he opens a club to give new punk bands exposure becoming a major promoter of the punk movement. But hardly the exemplary capitalist he's motivated by gut feelings and passion and his belief in Manchester as the epicenter of new music. Wilson does discover several bands that go on to varying degrees of success and notoriety including Joy Division/New Order and the Happy Mondays but punk values and the lifestyle take their toll. There are the premature deaths marital breakups including Wilson's first marriage and drug lords who wield too much influence in Wilson's club. His own loosey-goosey ways with his record business and artist contracts leads to his label's demise. Through it all Wilson keeps his day job as TV personality and never lets go his allegiance to his beloved Manchester flag.
Thanks to 24 Hour Party People Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson may well become a star in Yank country. Known to TV audiences in the U.K. Wilson with a background in comedy is a brilliant and compelling presence as the film's drolly ironic and obviously learned hero. All supporting roles here are superb including Andy Serkis as doomed and messed up producer Martin Hannett Rob Brydon as Ryan Letts and Shirley Henderson as Wilson's first wife Shirley.
Michael Winterbottom who so brilliantly directed Welcome to Sarajevo but disappointed with The Claim again triumphs here. Employing an arsenal of special effects and using DV Winterbottom perfectly captures an era a rock movement a place and the authentic spirit of a hugely intelligent and appealing maverick entrepreneur whose field of vision extended well above the bottom line.