The film is billed as a Little Miss Sunshine meets Four Weddings and a Funeral – an apt comparison in terms of tone if not quality. The concept of An Actor Prepares isn’t exactly a new one; a last ditch road trip buddy comedy with two very contrasting characters. The father and son spin isn’t entirely new either. In fact, very little about the film overall is new or different.
Atticus (Irons) is a world renowned actor who has just turned 70 and earned a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to acting and his son Adam (Huston), a lecturer and sort-of documentary-maker, must drive to daughter/sister Annabelle’s (Gummer) wedding after Atticus has a major heart-attack. Due to the current state of his health Atticus is unable to fly, so his agent Jimmy (Schwartz) persuades Adam to drive them – on a journey which will take at least five nights. It wouldn’t be too big a problem, except father and son have been estranged for 15 years, since Adam testified against Atticus in his parent’s divorce.
Inevitably conflict and bonding ensues. They end up in all manner of wacky situations. There are confession and admissions. They learn from each other and about each other. It’s all endearing and gentle and sweet.
Well, it should be. What gets in the way with the film is how unlikeable the central leads are. Irons as Atticus is the epitome of cantankerous, an entitled curmudgeons actor who is used to getting what he wants when he wants it. The problem with this concept is that is been better done in other films, but most importantly, it’s an archetype which is becoming increasingly outdated, archaic and rather problematic in recent months.
The film was first introduced at the 2016 Cannes film festival. Since then much has happened in terms of exposing misogynistic and abusive behaviour by those in power abusing their self-imposed authority, supported by the industry. Atticus speaks to all women and about all women as if they all want to sleep with him, throwing around his fame and fortune in the expectation that all want to receive it. It seems as if the film wants us to find him funny, roll his eyes at his behaviour and be somewhat charmed by it. In the wake of the #MeToo movement it makes for uncomfortable watching in the knowledge that the behaviours being demonstrated by the character are more fact than fiction.
This really isn’t helped by his foil of a son. We first meet Adam when he is giving the introductory lecture of his feminist film module; his hosting of it is questioned by the all-female attendees. His replies, along with his oft-referred to making of a documentary expose of sexism in the film industry and numerous references to eating habits & environmentalism are meant to make him appear ‘woke’ whilst also parodying him and contrasting him with his fossil of a father. Using sexism and politics relating to it as shorthand for characterisation and personality is lazy writing. These aspects are rarely explored in detail or questioned. Adding in the questionable titles of Atticus’s filmography – ‘Throw down at Bitch River’ being the standout – the film feels like it’s trying to satirise by saying it is a satire without actually doing any satire.
The road trip they take is the kind seen in every other road trip film. Whilst the film had some potential it was either lost or underutilised making for a rather unmemorable 90 mins of film watching.
Dir: Steve Clark
Scr: Steve Clark, Thomas Moffett
Cast: Jeremy Irons, Matthew Modine, Jack Huston, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Ben Schwartz, Mamie Gummer.
Prd: Tom Butterfield, Steve Clark, Tom Lassally, David M. Rosenthal, Will Rowbotham, Derrick Tseng
DOP: John Bailey
Music: Tony Morales
Run time: 92 minutes
An Actor Prepares is out on digital now.