In his writing and directorial debut, Larry Clarke delivers an emotional yet entirely ordinary drama-comedy about the trials and tribulations of dealing with parents at the end of their life, and all the emotions returning home can bring.
The last thing Eddie Mills (Larry Clarke) wants to do is to go home and deal with his father on his deathbed but his Catholic guilt drags him back to his unconventional family. Once he’s back into the throes of his overbearing and often chaotic family he is forced to deal with a past he once avoided.
3 Days with Dad starts with the funeral of Bob Mills (Brian Dennehy) the problematic curmudgeon patriarch, with his four adult children Zac (Eric Edelstein), Andy (Tom Arnold), Diane (Mo Gaffney), and Eddie (Larry Clarke) in attendance. This is a family that despite its differences (both politically and religiously) love each other. They are joined by their overbearing stepmother Dawn (Lesley Ann Warren) who despite not raising these children has become a significant part of their life. The family banter is clearly supposed to be witty and biting but it falls a little flat. The cast lack the chemistry to execute these large family gathering scenes, many scenes play out for entirely too long, pointless to the plot with few laughs to be found.
Most of the film is set in flashbacks to their fathers’ illness and end of life care. Their father’s last days are sensitively portrayed, realistic and often uncomfortable to watch. End of life care and the pain of watching a relative die is shown in all its extricating pain, indignities and wailing grief. For anyone who has been in this situation, this film is too stark and real to be enjoyed. People sob, people bicker, people laugh hysterically to prevent themselves from crying and it’s sometimes too agonising to watch. The scenes that are supposed to be humorous are just too uncomfortable to laugh at, the tone not pitched quite right.
The dying patriarch is one of the few characters you care about. A Vietnam vet his outlook at life, love and work ethic is archaic and entirely problematic but he feels like the only well-written character. He is gruff, intolerant and had little ability to show his emotions, we’ve all met this man shouting in the bar about the lazy youth, local parking and politics. Dennehy delivers a superb performance as a dying man, gasping for pained breath between scolds.
The film’s lead Eddie can’t stop running into people from his high school, the most significant being his intense high school sweetheart Susan (Julie Ann Emery). These random encounters feel like a literary device to help Eddie have some form of character development. Dry-witted quadriplegic Brick (Mike O’Malley) is one of the few characters who sticks out in this cast of outsiders and hits the right tone. After suffering a surfing accident, he frequently pretends to be injured and gets a kick out of panicking those around him. A rare moment where the humour in the agony of life is pitched right.
The treatment of women isn’t very revolutionary, they are either fainting in grief, dealing with kids or acting promiscuous in a bar. The scene where an old stoner friend takes him to the bar, and he meets Velma (Amy Landecker), a wild woman in hot pants that speaks purely in sexual innuendos and entirely exists to make Eddie have realisations about his life, is an especially outmoded portrayal of a woman.
There are many things that Clarke’s debut does well but never as well as someone else before him. 3 Days with Dad concentrates too hard on the concept that death is the Great Reckoning, and not enough time building up characters. If you want to explore grief head towards Captain Fantastic or Manchester By The Sea because 3 Days with Dad lacks neither the heart nor the humour to keep up.
3 Days with Dad is out on Digital and Select Theatres now
by Amelia Harvey