You keep hoping for this movie to be better than it is. But it never is.
I wanted to like it a lot. First, I am a sucker for family dramas, where people confront each other for not saying “I love you” enough and withholding approval and everyone cries and hugs and learns lessons. But the real reason I wanted this to work was the story behind the movie. Not only do Oscar-winning father and son Kirk and Michael Douglas star (as a father who does not say “I love you” enough, etc. etc. and the son who was wounded by him, etc. etc.), but the cast also includes grandson Cameron Douglas (as the son/grandson) and even mother-of-Michael, grandmother of Cameron and ex-wife of Kirk Diana Douglas, playing the mother/grandmother. Wouldn’t it be great if this was up there with such other family productions as “Prizzi’s Honor” or even “On Golden Pond?” But instead it is impossible to leave the theater without thinking that it would have been much more satisfying to see a documentary about the making of the film than to watch the movie itself.
The Douglas family plays members of the Gromberg family, who do not communicate very well. Michael Douglas is Mitchell, now working at the law firm his father co-founded, but with no heart for the corporate work. He is happier working at a soup kitchen and organizing a rent strike. When another volunteer at the soup kitchen makes a pass at him, he is conflicted but almost willing to become involved with her. His wife Rebecca (Bernadette Peters) is a therapist, warm and loving but they are not connecting as much as they both need to. Their son Asher (Cameron Douglas) is a slacker, failing in college and selling marijuana. Their younger son, Eli (Rory Culkin) does not feel that he can talk to his parents. Instead of telling them that he needs more allowance, he prints off a spreadsheet showing them his expenses.
Kirk Douglas plays the family patriarch, who, like the actor who portrays him, is recovering from a stroke and has impaired speech. But what really impairs his communication is his irascible nature.
Michael Douglas is clearly enjoying himself, and brings a great warmth to his performance. His son Cameron cannot act and has little star quality, but Michael himself wasn’t much better in his “Streets of San Francisco” days, so he may deserve another chance. The real star of the movie is Michael’s on and off-screen mother, Diana, who brings a marvelous elegance and humor to her role. When she dances with her husband, there is real history between them, magnificently so.
The script is terribly weak. It has the requisite ingredients for a family story, including the death of not one but two family members, a family holiday celebration (Passover), and grandfatherly advice that pays off surprisingly well. It keeps going off in too many different directions including a do-it-yourself Viking funeral that is completely batty.
Parents should know that the movie has a lot of mature material for a PG-13, including sexual situations and references. There is one casual sexual encounter in which a girl introduces herself to the boy just as they are about to go to bed together. An older brother nags his 11-year-old brother about kissing (or more) the girl he likes. A grandfather gives his grandson tips about seducing a girl. An adulterous encounter is halted because someone comes into the room. A character uses and deals in drugs, and characters turn to alcohol to numb their feelings.
Families who see this movie should talk about why it was so hard for the people in this family to talk to each other, even though many of them wanted to. How do different families communicate in different ways?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “I Never Sang for My Father,” “The Holly and the Ivy” and some of the other movies with Kirk and Michael Douglas, especially their Oscar-winning performances in “Spartacus” and “Wall Street.”