Elijah takes part in some pretty dark and hilarious father-son time.
I’ve been following Come to Daddy for a while; not too long after it appeared on lead star Elijah Wood’s iMDB page, actually. Reading the simple logline description, the possibilities and areas the movie suggested it could go made it seem like a title to keep an eye on, which I did. I watched as the movie made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival last spring, quickly becoming one of the buzziest titles there. A showing at Fantastic Fest this fall amped up the already well-reviewed title as those in attendance proclaimed genre lovers had a new favorite on their hands. What genre they were actually referring to however, remains debatable. In fact, one of the most uniquely characteristic things about Come to Daddy is just how much of a hybrid it is. The movie successfully functions as an incredibly twisty thriller, a hilariously dark comedy and a drama about a young man coming to terms with his past. Mixing red herrings, great exchanges between scene partners and moments of introspection, Come to Daddy is the first real find of the year.
Written and directed by Ant Timpson, Come to Daddy follows Norval Greenwood (Wood), a 30-something Coachella-esque DJ from Beverly Hills who has traveled all the way to Northern California to reconnect with his estranged father (Stephen McHattie) whom he hasn’t seen since he was five years old. Curious to find out what he’s like and more importantly, why he sent a letter beckoning him to visit, Norval tries desperately to get to know his gruff and somewhat hostile father. Soon however, Norval finds things go from laughably awkward to shockingly violent as he gets to know the man he once called daddy.
To learn that there is plenty of comedy in Come to Daddy isn’t much of a shock. To learn that there’s also a lot of violence in Come to Daddy is likewise pretty much a given, especially judging from the tone of the movie’s trailer. While the amount of violence doesn’t reach levels of Green Room, there is a certain feel to it which is certainly more shocking in terms of how almost “matter of factly” it’s presented. Hands down, the movie’s most violent scene comes at the midpoint after Norval encounters an intruder in his father’s home, whom he surprises by walking in on him while using the bathroom. After a brief exchange of surprise and awkwardness, the two engage in a highly bloody fight to the end which involves saran wrap and a rolling pin. In a roundabout way, the violence here and in subsequent scenes justifies itself through the ineptness of the main character when it comes to such situations, frantically using his own clumsy, but effective, instincts in order to defend himself. It all mixes well with the level of dark comedy the film is going for. Even the movie’s title hints at the odd playfulness and sarcasm that lie ahead as Norval finds himself continuously out of his element and in continuous awe as he marvels at the fact that someone so removed from who he is could actually be his father. An especially funny scene happens when a proposed selfie on a balcony overlooking the ocean ends with Norval’s dad dropping his son’s solid gold phone into the water. “I shouldn’t have had that second beer for breakfast,” he observes. “There are only 20 of those in the entire world,” says a stunned Norval. “Well, now there’s only 19,” his father replies casually as he stumbles away.
*Second Act Spoilers Below*
While some might avoid watching the trailer for a movie called Come to Daddy, rest assured, it’s totally fine to do so. The film’s marketing manages the trickiest of feats in that it tells you exactly what the movie is about without revealing anything which could ruin any of the many surprises which lay ahead. Even though it’s apparent from the trailer that Norval gets into a bit of a mess as a result of his father’s actions, what isn’t clear is the fact that Come to Daddy is essentially three different movies all in one. With the passing of each act, the tone and the shape of the movie is transformed into something that’s completely different from what came before, but which remains nonetheless entertaining. The first act plays out like a sort of cat-and-mouse battle of wills between father and son as Norval and his dad subtly (and eventually not so subtly) tear each other apart in admittedly hilarious ways. A conversation involving Elton John has possibly never been more uncomfortable than when it’s shared between these two men. However shortly after the first thirty minutes, daddy has a heart attack and dies at which point the movie takes on the form of an introspective character study. There are long stretches featuring Norval silently wandering around his father’s home as he tries to piece together the man who has just died whom he will never ever truly get to know. By the time the third act rolls around, Come to Daddy takes yet another dark turn, introducing some sleazy characters and revealing more about Norval’s father than he ever could have imagined. It’s here where a twisty thriller, complete with one macabre turn after another, takes place leaving the audience to wonder how someone like Norval can possibly come out of this alive.
Come to Daddy really furthers the evolution of Elijah Wood as an actor. Having been a part of one of the biggest movie franchises in cinema history, the actor has continuously surprised critics and fans with his choice of roles in the years since. Recent leading roles in titles such as Grand Piano, Cooties and Open Windows show an actor eager to explore a different aspect of his craft while also being hungry to work with experimental filmmakers in projects which don’t necessarily fit into any one genre. Come to Daddy ticks those specific boxes through its unclassifiable nature as a film, but also in the richness of the role it gives its lead actor. Norval is another victory for Wood. The actor has no trouble nailing the movie’s many comedic beats, acting as the perpetual straight man and garnering laughs with every look of disbelief he shows. Yet with his expressive eyes and inherent soulfulness, the actor is able to make the audience recognize the human side of his character behind the stereotypes as he puts on his emotional, damaged past on display for much of the film.
Come to Daddy is the perfect kind of festival gem that you hope and pray find it’s audience and earns a place among titles which push storytelling conventions while remaining true to their characters. Timpson’s debut manages this in it’s uncharacteristic architecture and also in the incredibly gorgeous cinematography that infuses every shot of the film. But it’s the ideology of Come to Daddy which has the most staying power. The movie explores the differences between father and son with specimens of two of the most differing generations ever to have existed. There’s a universal quality that’s present in Norval’s intimidation of his father and the latter’s need to keep himself closed off from his child that can be felt among many of Come to Daddy’s core audience. In the most unconventional, brutal and oddly hysterical of ways, the movie is able to tap into one of male society’s most prominent, sensitive areas of life and turn it into something both deeply therapeutic and insanely entertaining.