Published May 1, 1997
Father’s Day by Ivan Reitman is based on the preposterous premiss that an apparently happily-married woman, upset at her husband’s failure to pursue their runaway 17 year old boy who has left home to become a rock-band groupie, would tell not one but two old boyfriends that they might be the boy’s father—in the expectation that they would pursue him and bring him home again. This is way too much to swallow all by itself. Even more incredible is that both the saps, Dale Putley (Robin Williams) and Jack Lawrence (Billy Crystal) immediately do go off in pursuit of the boy, Scott (Charlie Hofheimer) and proceed to bring him home.
For both of them the escapade is a kind of yuppie fatherhood fantasy. Dale, it is true, is supposed to be an impecunious poet and playwright on the point of blowing his brains out when the boy’s mother, Colette (Nastassja Kinski), calls him. But apart from a tendency to cry in public, a fear of flying and a decidedly low-rent sartorial taste, Dale is as much a yuppie as Jack, a three-times married lawyer who, in his forties, has never got round to having any children. When they find Scott hanging around the touring rock band, called Sugar Ray, and mooning over an increasingly indifferent girlfriend they rather pathetically try to impress him with tales of their own youthful exploits (“I had an Afro out to here,” says Jack). Even more pathetically, such stuff seems to create a rapport with the boy, who has never seen either man in his life before.
Meanwhile, his real father, Bob (Bruce Greenwood), is penitent at not having dropped everything to show his bratty son that he cares, so he, too, sets off on his trail, only to fall victim to a series of supposedly comic misadventures. If you’re the sort of person who busts a gut at seeing a porta-potty tipped over with a man inside, you may find them genuinely comic, though they still have nothing to do with the main story.
Jack’s and Dale’s misadventures are even more comic, but the point is rather the bonding between the two of them, obviously friends in real life and attempting to sell themselves as the new Odd Couple—Billy deadpan, uptight and controlling, Robin manic and uncontrollable.
Parenthood for them is merely something to get sentimental about. What they really want is apprenticeship, to train up this boy (or some other boy) to listen to their jokes and appreciate the showbiz craft that goes into their comic cross-talk act.
It is true that this act is often funny, both Crystal’s dry one-liners and Williams’s extravagant fancies. For example, the latter sings and dances a number from what is supposed to be one of Dale’s unproduced plays called “Hello, Doctor, It’s Still Swollen.” But there is so much dross in the form of unfunny sub-plots (Scott gets drunk, Scott is pursued by drug-dealers, Jack’s wife Carrie, played by Julia-Louis Dreyfus, thinks he’s up to some hanky-panky) and banal yuppie moralizing that it is not worth sitting through in order to get to the funny bits.