A father’s death by suicide turns into a chance to bond through grief for his two daughters in Bradley Grant Smith’s debut feature Our Father. Smith, an actor from recent indie films like Saint Frances and The Last Shift, brings a similar minimalistic, character-driven sensibility to his film, focused on the dynamics at the core of the piece rather than plot machinations. That’s not to say Our Father is entirely without narrative propulsion, as the crux of the movie centers around Beta (Baize Buzan) and Zelda (Allison Torem) on the search for an uncle they never knew they had.
Smith is taking pieces here from other films, calling to mind indie hits such as The Daytrippers and Nebraska in the way that it mixes dysfunctional family drama with this road mystery adventure, all done in a muted tone surrounded by solemnity. There are occasional moments of levity throughout the film, with Buzan and Torem gifted in the art of a quick bit of dry humor, but at all times there’s a weight holding down the characters. This is by design, fitting for the subject matter, yet it also restricts Our Father a bit too much in a way where it never feels able to flourish.
The search for their uncle also presents some issues, as it mostly feels tacked on. Particularly with how this narrative ends, it can be a bit unsatisfying, perhaps taking a little too much time away from the core of the movie, which is the relationship between the two sisters. When Smith is focusing more squarely on that dynamic, Our Father starts to shine. Buzan and Torem are excellently cast, finding the right rhythm for these characters as individuals and as an on-screen duo, where each one balances out the other in an almost effortless groove that establishes well the history of these two being connected yet somewhat estranged.
What the long lost uncle idea does tap into, however, is the film’s running theme of longing for connection, especially when you’ve been conditioned to accept being on your own. We get the understanding that in this family there has always been a disconnect, with Beta and Zelda particularly feeling distanced (their names give us a clue to their secondary nature within the family unit) from not only their father, but the rest of the family as well. They’ve never had the support system that they’ve longed for, and this idea of a long lost family member gives them hope that maybe there’s some sort of mystery that will solve the issues they’ve always struggled with.
Of course, ultimately there is no easy fix such as this, which makes the unsatisfying nature of that arc’s resolution somewhat appropriate. Smith can’t quite hit the landing of making it feel intentionally hollow, but the movie does leave you with the impression at least that it’s what he was going for. The sisters discover that they had support all along if they could just reach out for it. More importantly, they come to understand that maybe this family simply isn’t one that they would, or should, want to be a part of. Maybe these people have always been distanced from them for a reason, and thus they’re better off. When you feel that emptiness in your life you will always be searching to fill it, but perhaps the solution isn’t as simple as a long lost uncle suddenly dropping in from thin air. Life is a lot more complicated than that, even if the film isn’t able to acknowledge this in a wholly successful way.