At a time when most new comedies are nothing more than feature length scripts for fumbling Saturday Night Live faces, it’s nice to know there was once a time when comedies were “sweet,” and “innocent.” In 1994, Steve Miner’s “My Father the Hero” was released and received mixed bag reviews from the critics; more negative than positive. I wonder though, if it were released today when most comedies require toilet humor and character-development sacrificing, to get a laugh, would it receive different ratings?
The film stars the internationally known (mostly in France) actor, Gérard Depardieu, as Andre, a Frenchman recently divorced looking to steer his life in a new direction. It’s been several years since he last saw his American-born daughter, 14-year-old Nicole (Katherine Heigl). Andre takes Nicole on a much needed vacation to the Caribbean, where the rest of the story awaits them.
While on the island, Nicole falls for fellow tourist, 17-year-old Ben (Dalton James). Embarrassed and unwilling to admit she’s only 14, Nicole makes it known that Andre is her lover, not her father. This lie is only the start of a chain-reaction that starts off small, but quickly turns into a path of no-return. Nicole tells Ben her real father is in prison and that her mother is a prostitute. Nicole was heading down a similar path until Andre came into her life and saved her.
The movie has a long-running joke, and that is the rest of the tourist community has caught on to the rumors while Andre is of course oblivious to their treating him like a disgusting pervert. Eventually, Nicole finds herself in-over-her-head and confesses her twisted make-believe story to her father. He is then asked to follow along, and he does after only slight hesitation.
The film then plays off of funny gags and humorous scenes, one of the best being when Andre agrees to play piano for an audience at an amateur night show, and unfortunately selects “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” as his performance piece. With his back to the audience, he is unaware of the shocked attendees, repulsed by his open attraction to younger girls. We of course know this isn’t true, but because Andre doesn’t realize he’s been labeled, the gag runs for most of the movie.
The cast is solid. Depardieu is a convincing father, concerned about his daughter and saving the family that continues to grow further apart. The absolutely beautiful Heigl, who reportedly beat out Alicia Silverstone for the part of Nicole, is charming as the lost daughter in pursuit of love using all the wrong tactics. She handles herself well taking part in one of the leading roles, although at14, she had yet to master the skill of fake crying.
Interestingly, director Steve Miner’s career was built by making B-grade horror flicks, not comedies. His resume includes directing “Halloween: H20,” “Friday the 13th Part 2 and 3” and producing Wes Craven’s infamous “The Last House on the Left.” I never expected him to take on a comedy, which was sandwiched between two well-known slasher series.
There are flaws in “My Father the Hero.” Miner does a good job, but there areas he could have easily cleaned up. The movie follows the formula that says characters are only in existence when they are supposed to be. Take Ben’s father. He is a paranoid and suspicious character, but only when on camera. In a scene where Nicole throws a rock through Ben’s closed window, the crashing sound of shattered glass is not heard by Ben’s father, because he isn’t supposed to be in this scene. I also had issues with the obligatory female-lead character in peril scene. We see Nicole lose control while windsurfing as she ends up hanging for her life on the rocks while Ben and her father come darting to her rescue. This scene is not believable in the least, as the waves don’t look threatening and the water doesn’t look any deeper than standing depth.
But with those technicalities aside, the film has many enjoyable qualities, because it’s not about action and edge-of-your-seat thrills, it’s about relationships and the deteriorating bond between a father and his daughter. Andre has to understand his daughter’s natural feelings, and he even goes along in some of her lies when confronted by an angry Ben. Does he do this to teach her a lesson, or is he trying to be the father who has always been absent in her life?
“My Father the Hero” will make you smile, even though it lacks brilliance and the needed material to be consistently funny in every scene. But it’s a refreshing PG, and few comedies below PG-13 are bearable to adults. I probably would have had less to say about it back in 1994, but now that we are in the 2000’s, a comedy as pure as this is rare.
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