Based on a memoir by Blake Morrison (played here by Firth), When Did You Last See Your Father? chronicles the death of the writer’s dad, Arthur (Broadbent), from bowel cancer. Extensive flashbacks reveal a father-son relationship that had more downs than ups, with Broadbent sinking his teeth into scenes of Arthur’s nearly compulsive narcissism: Always the center of attention, he’s a fast-talking hustler who’s constantly belittling his teenage son, even embarrassing him in front of prospective girlfriends.
Early scenes are terse—Arthur’s diagnosis is presented simply and directly—and the film is mostly unflinching in its portrayal of the final stages of Dad’s life. Even so, the dynamics are overfamiliar and the whole movie feels vaguely punitive, an exercise in human misery that’s not improved by director Anand Tucker’s rote tear-jerking. Tamara Jenkins’s recent The Savages, another movie about adult children coming to terms with the legacy of a flawed, dying father, showed how this kind of material can be leavened with black comedy in a way that not only doesn’t sugarcoat the characters’ pain, but actually enhances our understanding of it. What’s missing from Tucker’s film is the sense of how humor can make the worst of situations more bearable, in movies as in life.
Cast and crew