In Memory of My Father

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 06/24/05 03:28:14

"Daddy May Be Dead - But The Great Ensemble Comedy Is Not"
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT THE 2005 CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: Family and friends gathering. Break-ups. Affairs. Weddings. Funerals. These are words that you can find on screenwriting flash cards designed by Syd Field as part of his “Yeah, That’s The Ticket” series. It’s a simple place to go for aspiring writers, giving them the opportunity to exercise the “write what you know” clause of their training. No one can escape the hundreds of variations that we’ve seen from stage-to-TV-to big screen, but each story still has the opportunity to be unique. It takes a team though. A team of gifted actors not content to follow through on the motions of the past, but to find the qualities that make each of their characters unique. In doing that, it’s the truth and not just the quirks that come to the surface and filmmaker Christopher Jaymes has massaged that truth into a gathering of substantial hilarity and suppressed emotion.

A Hollywood producer has died. Before kicking he asked his son, Chris (Christopher Jaymes) to record his last days including his wake. Family and friends are invited over while the patriarch literally lies in his deathbed upstairs. He had two other sons; Jeremy (Jeremy Sisto), confronting the possibility that his wife (Monet Mazur) is a lesbian and Matt (Matt Keeslar), who is a record streak of not cheating on his current ladylove. From there the family tree gets complicated since their uncle actually cheated with their mother and wound up forking off their own lineage while daddy brought some sugar to the pot by marrying Judy (Judy Greer). (Just in case you were wondering, Tony Danza does not show up to play a character named Tony.)

Also on hand is Chris’ good friend, Pat (Pat Healy), who is distraught to find out his ex & Chris’ cousin/sister, Meadow (Meadow Sisto) is bringing her current beau, Eric (Eric Michael Cole), a philosophizing new-age symbol of calm compared to his emotional instability. There’s also concern over Chris’ continued trend of dating much-younger women, in this case the 17-year old Christine (Christine Lakin) while he fights back his affection for his other sister/cousin, Nicole (Nicholle Tom). What a crazy pair times five.

You may want to call the whole thing off if you think you’re about to hear a Keystone Kops score along the background, but Jaymes and his cast are much smarter than that. They allow the humor to come from the personalities they create, which creates the situations and not the other way around. There are scenes that almost have no business working as brilliantly as they do. How many times have we seen a character take drugs at absolutely the wrong time? Well here it’s a pair of ‘em and we laugh at the way they take this journey together, looking out for each other and trying to rationalize their next maneuver. The same holds true for a cell phone break-up which balances an outpouring of frustration with the justification for conducting a guilt-free affair.

These are characters justifying their space in this world after a string of failed expectations and the realization that they may not have been supported if that potential was ever met. Death lingers from above them all and not one of them has a viable thought on the subject; at least not one that can be vocalized at a wake. Improvised or not, the dialogue is so carefully conceived that many of the punchlines feel like zingers from the days of Mankiewicz and Wilder. One conversation between Jeremy & Eric over what they would like to do with Meadow is so perfectly constructed that it implicates the audience for going along with the vulgarian thought process. We’re not far off from these people and the relief of clarity is just a momentary lapse in confronting the darker and less socially acceptable parts of our psyches.

The cast is uniformly flawless, going along for the ride without ever betraying who they are for just a cheap gag. Jeremy Sisto has been coming into his own of late with standout roles in May and Thirteen, not to mention his carefully balanced turn on HBO’s Six Feet Under (which gets a twinge of a reference here for those familiar with the show and his real-life relationship to one of the actors). His scenes together with Eric Michael Cole have the comic timing of an old Vaudevillian act minus the shtickiness. Pat Healy’s outbursts are perfectly calculated and when he’s left alone, drunk and searching for anyone to listen to him, it translates into one of the film’s funniest, if briefest, moments. Thankfully, Judy Greer’s terrific comic abilities are not going unnoticed as her conversations with her dead husband and Keeslar begat solid laughs and an unbalanced view of what her character is all about. And director Christopher Jaymes rejects the potential to become the maudlin center of the film, doing solid work that effectively equalizes comedy and drama.

There is not a false emotion running through In Memory Of My Father. It maintains a screwball sense of absurdity but paces itself to allow the humanism to shine through. The truth of the humor is real and gives way to anger which is just as true and at times, painfully funny. This is a specially crafted observation of characters trying to hide the worst parts of themselves, but through substances, grief and even love, feel compelled to failure. When the entire family gathers around to belt out an impromptu tribute to their fallen father, it’s a glorious mélange of liberation and truth that will seep into your subconscious and having you singing “Daddy’s Dead” on your way out.

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