Dear old dad takes another left hook to the chin in When Did You Last See Your Father? - well, not a hook so much as a series of jabs. Colin Firth, as handsomely dour as ever, stars in this adaptation of British writer Blake Morrison's memoir about having grown up with a man who never got around to growing up himself. And if Jim Broadbent isn't quite who I had in mind for Arthur Morrison - too jovial, not Jekyll/Hyde enough - he nevertheless captures the qualities that drove the young Blake Morrison out of his mind. Broadbent's Arthur is a flirt, an opportunist, a bit of a scam artist and the kind of guy who sucks the air out of whatever room he's in. That can be difficult on a kid who, though shy and bookish, wouldn't mind doing some flirting of his own.
Today, Blake, now married and with kids of his own, still feels resentful. And if he's ever going to resolve his differences with his prodigal father, he better get started, because Arthur, a doctor himself, has just been diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. Directed by Anand Tucker, who did some nice things with sibling rivalry in Hilary and Jackie, When Did You Last See Your Father? is one of those look-back-in-anger movies, spending as much time with the teenage Blake (played by Matthew Beard) as it does with the middle-aged Blake. To an outside observer, Arthur might not seem all that bad - a life-of-the-party type who could charm the pants off anybody. But as the teenage Blake points out to a girl who seems more charmed by the father than the son, "You don't have to live with him."
Mrs. Morrison did, and Juliet Stevenson (where's she been since Truly, Madly, Deeply?) does what she can with a sorely underwritten role. Morrison wrote a memoir about his mother too, in which he tried to discern why she stayed with a man who carried on a years-long affair right before her eyes. (The kids called the woman Auntie Beady.) But some things just can't be explained, and the movie's forgiving enough to look past all that and quit trying to sort out the good from the bad. It's a little somber for my taste, even when Arthur's in his ribald prime. And it's shot in colors that can only be described as funereal. One more thing: Tucker needs to let up on the mirror shots; we know Blake's of two minds about his father. Still, I'd venture to say that anyone who's ever had a dad will relate to Blake's bittersweet predicament.