Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Movie – My Father the Hero (1994)

My Father the Hero is the first film in which I ever saw Katherine Heigl.  She was in her teens and was playing the daughter to Gerard Depardieu in this comedy vehicle for him.  The film is actually a remake of the original 1991 French film of the same (translated) name, which also starred Depardieu.  In that one Belgian actress Marie Gillain played his daughter and it launched her career.  While Heigl eventually needed a TV show to make her a household name, she did work steadily after making this film.  The problem is that a story that works for a French audience isn’t necessarily one that works for an American audience.  This remake was polarizing for some people.

Andre (Depardieu) is a French pianist who travels quite a bit performing.  He is divorced from Megan (Lauren Hutton), who has custody of their daughter Nicole (Heigl).  They live in New York City so Andre does not get to see his daughter much.  He misses her a great deal and has finally convinced Megan to let him take Nicole on a vacation to the Caribbean where he desperately hopes to reconnect with his daughter.

When he arrives to pick her up he discovers she isn’t the little girl he remembers.  She’s a teenager and is “going on 30” in regards to how she tries to act.  She oh-so-sophisticatedly insists on calling him “Andre” instead of “Dad”.  She feels she is very grown up.  When they get to the island she wears a thong bathing suit that she’s too young for and Andre goes ballistic.  She pooh-poohs his concerns.  That evening they go out to dinner and she dresses in the proverbial “little black dress”.  Once again Andre isn’t happy, but he’s starving so he doesn’t make her change.  To make matters worse, Nicole has already started flirting with boys and to Andre’s horror, one of them is a musician like him.

Andre’s got other things to think about, though.  He and his girlfriend (watch for a cameo by a famous face at the end of the movie) are having a rough patch.  In addition, a divorcee at the resort is quite interested in him.  Her name is Diana (Faith Prince), or as Andre refers to her, “Diana, Goddess of the Hunt.”

Trouble really starts when a cute guy named Ben (Dalton James) finally talks to Nicole.  She’s had her eye on him, but he’s a few years older and sees her as a kid.  When he asks about Andre she makes up a lie that he’s her lover, in order to seem older and sophisticated.  Ben almost catches her in the lie when he starts asking questions, but “in for a penny, in for a pound” she starts making up more lies about how they have to pretend to be father and daughter when they travel so people won’t get upset.  The lie works and she’s now got Ben’s attention.

This is what is polarizing.  Even joking about something that hints at either incest, or a teenager with an older man, is a taboo to some people.  It’s all completely innocent in the movie – in fact it’s rated PG and it comes from Disney – but just the concept is bothersome to some people.  And others forget that “PG” still means “Parental Guidance Suggested” so there may be something in the film you would object to your little kids seeing.

The lie spreads like wildfire, of course, and soon all the other people at the resort are giving Andre disapproving looks.  Not being in the know, he’s completely baffled by all of this.  He tries making friends with everyone, but they rebuff him.  He finally agrees to perform for them in hopes of breaking the ice.  (Note – Depardieu did all of his own piano playing in the film.)  When he asks them what they want him to play, they just say “something French”.  He thinks for a bit, a light bulb goes on over his head, and he launches into the worst possible song – Maurice Chevalier’s Thank Heaven for Little Girls.  The audience is deeply offended and leaves.  You may be offended, too, or if you have a twisted sense of humor, this is the funniest scene in the film.  The moment I recognized the song – which is also completely innocent if you listen to the words, but which some dirty minded people try to make offensive, I started laughing out loud.  I’m chuckling now just thinking about the scene.

Nicole finally confesses to her father what she has been telling people.  He is horrified.  She makes it worse when she asks him to support her in this charade because if Ben finds out she has been lying to him the entire time he will hate her.  Believing this is the only way he can show his daughter he loves and supports her, Andre agrees to pretend when Ben is around.  Pretty soon he is making up wild stories about his adventures for Ben and we see where Nicole gets her lying ability from.

There’s a fun scene in the film for those who know Depardieu’s background in films.  In 1991 he received an Oscar nomination for playing the title character in Cyrano de Bergerac.  In this film he hides in the bushes while Nicole talks to Ben.  Andre feeds her lines she should say in order to make things right.  This mirrors his scene as Cyrano in the earlier film.

Despite the central premise of the movie, this really is a sweet comedy about a father’s love for his misguided daughter and how he helps her actually grow up a little, while also coming to accept that she is not just his little girl anymore.

Heigl seems to have attracted a larger than usual number of haters over her career.  I don’t know if this is because she plays an unlikable character on her TV show Grey’s Anatomy and people can’t separate the character from the actress (I’ve never watched the show), or if it’s her tendency when asked a question to actually speak her mind instead of responding with the safer “no comment”.  In either case, this movie will not change your opinion of her.  Her character is unlikable until she starts learning some good life lessons.

You may not hate Heigl, but my description above of this film may bother you.  If so, you’re probably better off skipping it.  On the other hand, if you’re the kind of person who likes to judge for yourself, then by all means check it out.  Finally, if you either have a twisted sense of humor, or you want to see a movie with a great father-daughter relationship, then I recommend you give this a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Note: the video below contains the scene where Nicole lies about Andre to impress Ben.  Things snowball from there.

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  1. Looks pretty funny to me. I'm somewhat prudish I guess, but I understand that the situation is being used for humor. I can imagine I'd die laughing at the "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" scene.

    1. I laughed quite a bit at it. What made it even funnier is he's doing a bouncy, happy version of it, with his back to the audience, so he doesn't see the effect of it.

  2. This film is OK as I was more wowed by Gerard Depardieu. The man is entertaining in this though I think the film should've been rated PG-13.

    1. The MPAA is nothing, if not inconsistent. I don't think Disney got a PG-13 rating for a movie until the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. Nobody but Spielberg would have gotten a PG-13 rating for War Horse; everyone else would have received an R. If you're a big name the MPAA will bow down to you.

  3. I remember the commercials for this one and I think this is the last time I heard his name before his US celebrity status faded. I LOVE Cyrano and didn't realize they had so many connections in this movie. A fair and honest review Chip.

    1. Thanks. Since this was based on a French film that came out the year after Cyrano de Bergerac I'm sure they put that scene in on purpose to amuse the audience and then it got carried over to the American remake.

      Many years later Heigl would have another "Cyrano" scene in The Ugly Truth.