A version of this review originally appeared on Punch Drunk Critics.
I never know quite what to expect when I watch a Gerard Butler movie. He’s been an opera phantom, a Spartan king, a Secret Service agent…
I do, however, know almost exactly what to expect when I watch a movie about a man struggling to balance his work life and his family life.
There’s nothing wrong with A Family Man. It’s just that it’s pretty predictable: Dane Jensen (Gerard Butler) is a headhunter, the kind that has become very successful by occasionally treating ethics like suggestions and being on his phone all the time. It’s a character we’ve seen before, in this type of movie, and from Gerard Butler, where he is a bit of a douche-bro gunning to run the company when his ruthless boss, Ed Blackridge (Willem Dafoe) announces his retirement. Despite us seeing that he does care for his family, we are introduced to his dynamic with his oldest son via telling him to run with him on account of getting fat. The kid is in elementary school.
As it turns out, Ryan (Maxwell Jenkins) isn’t getting fat; he has cancer. The timing is unbelievably inconvenient for Dane, who is competing with equally ambitious Lynn (Alison Brie) for the top spot at work. Despite how tired it is to watch a dad fail at juggling increased responsibilities at work with his increased responsibilities at home, Jenkins really shined as little Ryan, who wants to be an architect. My favorite scenes are the ones of Butler and Jenkins exploring Chicago architecture together, quietly enjoying iconic buildings together. These moments are really sweet and really help to draw you in emotionally as a viewer.
Again, there’s nothing particularly wrong with the story or the movie, but I had a few issues with it. First, Alison Brie’s talent is basically completely wasted. I don’t know if her scenes were cut from the final edit of the movie, but she is hardly in it. You have to assume that Lynn is also very ambitious only because she is the person competing with Dane for Ed’s job, but we don’t really see any sign of her ambition. All we know is that her opinion of Dane and his team of bros is fairly low because of their sketchy methods, although she does admit that Dane is the hardest worker at the firm. Willem Dafoe also didn’t have very much screen time, but he was able to do a lot with the little that he had because his character was simply written to be a much more dynamic and to have more weight in his scenes. It just seemed like a really big waste of Alison Brie.
Second, the movie is just too long. There is really no need for this story, which has been done so many times and doesn’t really bring anything new to it, to be a nearly 2-hour picture. The pacing itself was actually fine, I didn’t feel it dragged too much at any point, but it could’ve been snappier. Maybe it’s the movie forgot about the great acting talents it had in Brie, Molina, and Dafoe and tried to shoehorn them in. While I love those actors, I don’t think the overall story would have suffered very much without them, and that’s pretty unfortunate.
Third, and this is a personal grievance, but I felt tricked by this movie because I thought something VERY SAD had happened but it wasn’t quite what I was led to believe. I was so relieved through my TEARS because I only had set so many feels aside for this movie, so this moment really went deep into the reserves, and then it turned out I misunderstood the whole scene. Watch and let me know if you felt similarly emotionally manipulated or if I am just foolish (and salty).
The performances from the cast are really quite good considering the kind of overdone premise, and the beautiful scenes of father and son admiring architecture together are enough to make you want to visit Chicago in person to see it all for yourself. I just wish there was a little more of what was lacking and a little less of what we have more than enough of in theaters these days.
A Family Man comes out in US theaters today, June 28.