When she was a small child, Katie’s father Jake (Russell Crowe) – a Pulitzer prize winning author – struggled to take care of her as he came to terms with his own illness, and the death of his wife. While he tries to hang on to the young Katie, his late wife’s sister (Diane Kruger) tries her best to adopt Katie away from her father. 27 years later, Katie (Amanda Seyfried) struggles to let a new man into her life after she felt so abandoned by her father.
There is an old fashioned feeling about Fathers and Daughters, as though it is a throwback to the great tear jerker movies of the 1990s. There is a lot of honesty and truth in the movie, or so it feels, but all of this feels like it is hammered home, so none of the nuance of the story is allowed to emerge.
Although the film is called Fathers and Daughters – ostensibly the name of Jake Davis’ last great novel – this is a film about Amanda Seyfried’s character Katie, and Seyfried manages the job rather well, allowing the adult Katie to be a product of the tragic events that shaped her, as well as being relatable and rather likeable. As well as this, there is some great ‘drunk acting’ from Seyfried in one particular scene. Russell Crowe proves once again that he is great at these family dramas, and his chemistry with Kylie Rogers as the young incarnation of Katie is a delight on screen. Quvenzhané Wallis channels all the fire and spirit she had in Beasts of the Southern Wild into Lucy, a virtually silent character who says everything she needs to with her expression. This is a strong role for the young actress, and a refreshing change after the violently cheerful Annie last year. The rest of the cast is made up of Diane Kruger, Jane Fonda, Bruce Greenwood, Aaron Paul and Octavia Spencer.
The story blends the past and the present to explain the personal issues that Katie has in her life, and her ability to get through to troubled children, such as Lucy. Brad Desch’s screenplay feels personal and honest, but there are times where the emotion is hit on the head so strongly and repeatedly that it loses the subtlety that would make it heartwrenching and strong. As well as this, the idea that a character can be fixed by a relationship with another one feels like a very outdated storyline, even if it is the character’s choice to change through this new relationship.
Director Gabriele Muccino has made a career of these overly sentimental stories – his previous work includes Seven Pounds, The Pursuit of Happyness and The Last Kiss – and Fathers and Daughters is another of these stories that has a strong heart, but much is lost through overwrought sentimentality. The performances are strong, Crowe and young Rogers in particular are a joy to watch on screen, but many of the characters are underdeveloped and actors underused. That said, there are some lovely moments through the film, they just get lost in a sea of sentimentality.
In all, Fathers and Daughters has a vein of honesty running through it that feels real and deeply personal, but this is often overshadowed by the emotional beats in the film being hammered so hard. Crowe and Seyfried are particularly strong, but the rest of the cast are lost in the intersecting stories that make up the heart of the film.