Gabriele Muccino, best known for Seven Pounds and The Pursuit of Happyness, has made a career out of weepy family melodramas with starry names. The director’s latest effort, the saccharine Fathers and Daughters, is no exception, boasting a star-studded cast that includes Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Diane Kruger, Octavia Spencer, Jane Fonda, and Aaron Paul. The material, however, can’t live up to its A-list ensemble, and the result is a cloying, on-the-nose family drama that fails to pack an emotional punch.
The action bounces between 1989 and 2014, chronicling the life of a girl named Katie. The adorable Kylie Rogers plays the younger Katie, whose life is turned upside down when her mother dies in a car crash that also leaves her novelist father Jake (Crowe) wracked by tremors and seizures. While Jake, a former Pulitzer Prize winner, recovers for seven months in a mental facility, Katie lives with her wealthy aunt and uncle (Kruger and Bruce Greenwood), and upon his return, they declare their intent to adopt Katie, dragging Jake into an ugly lawsuit to prove his incompetence. It’s a cartoonishly evil plot, made even more ridiculous by the fact that they cite Jake’s declining book sales as proof that he’s an unfit parent.
More than two decades later, Katie is all grown up and played by Seyfried, working now as a social worker and psychology grad student. By day, she works with orphaned children, and by night, she trolls bars for casual sex, blatantly telling her therapist that she’s empty inside and completely incapable of love. That all changes, however, when she meets a sweet but bland writer named Cameron (Paul), whose all-time favorite author happens to be Katie’s father.
Fonda and Spencer are completely underutilized as Jake’s literary agent and Seyfried’s boss, respectively, while Quvenzhané Wallis has a small but powerful role as a mute young girl who bonds with Katie. This amount of syrup can be tolerable in small doses, but Fathers and Daughters’ predictable plot keeps it from ever becoming a truly enjoyable tearjerker. C