The only times I’ve fallen asleep while sitting up were in a High School Spanish class, a taxi on the way home from a Brooklyn New Year’s party, and while rushing through Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Last night I came dangerously close to adding another instance to that list during Mia Hansen-Løve’s The Father of My Children, a movie so bland and lifeless that even reviewing it feels painful. If a teacher ever forced you to report on some turd you didn’t love or hate—that’s single outstanding quality was its supreme boringness—that’s kind of what I’m doing right now. There are brief teases of emotion tossed in to keep viewers seated, but these only con them into sitting through heated office agreements and the quabbles of a middle-class economic “struggle”.
Gregoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lenquesaing) is a film producer for a small independent studio called “Moon Productions” and father of three young girls. The film studio is headed down the tubes and everyone at the office has turned to its ever-resilient producer for everything from director-budget moderation to headhunting funding for Saturn, a film whose future is on the chopping board due to an ever-bloating budget. Running out of options and faced with the degrading task of borrowing money from his family, Gregoire kills himself, leaving his loved ones and co-workers to sort things out for themselves. Sounds like the crux of a moving drama, huh? It’s not. The first twenty minutes of the film taunt us with touching scenes of Gregoire wrestling with his children, arguing with his wife over vacation, and watching his youngest daughters put on a play in their living room. But that’s all the emotion you can squeeze out of this cold little shit of a film. The rest of the time is spent constantly connected to the office, either from within or via cell phone; inane chats are given about the dire economic peril of films we’re never given a chance to see and don’t care about, directors are passive-aggressive assholes, and everyone flops around utterly incompetent for the rest of the film. There’s some subplot about one of the daughters trying to hunt down a long-lost brother by a different mother, but that doesn’t pan out to anything. The Father of My Children wants to be about the death of a man, but ultimately forces viewers through the slow, horrible experience of film studio closure.
About 35 minutes in I started checking my watch to see how far we’d made it, only to find we had another hour and fifteen minutes of lengthy discussions concerning set relocations, Korean funding heads’ hotels, and legal struggles to “keep the catalog” we never see or care for. The film isn’t good or bad in any way—it’s just boring. And in a world where truly bad movies like Mortal Kombat II: Annihilation have flaming cartwheeling ninjas falling from the sky and insane powerpoint foldins of ancient evil overlords, it’s much worse to make a boring film than a bad one. This is the kind of thing that makes you wish you had played frisbee, read a book, or sat down and finally balanced that week-old checkbook you’d been putting off.