Taking your newborn baby home from the hospital is usually cause for joy and celebration. It heralds the start of a new family, one which every member must negotiate afresh: husband and wife become father and mother, only child becomes brother or sister. With great sensitivity, Hirokazu Kore-eda`s Like Father Like Son explores the shattering aftermath of a bureaucratic error that several years down the road turns joy to misery, when two families discover that they have brought home the wrong son.
The film focuses on the stern, disciplined Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama), who works hard to provide his wife Midori (Ono Machiko) and son Keita (Keita Ninomiya) a comfortably upper-middle-class lifestyle. In his sweet, earnest way, Keita tries desperately to live up to Ryota`s exacting ideals, suffering manfully through piano lessons to win his dad`s favour. When Keita registers to start grade school in a few months` time, a routine blood test reveals that he is not biologically related to Ryota and Midori. As a result, two families implode, Ryota responding with quiet alarm when he realises that Ryusei (Hwang Sho-Gen), his biological son, has been brought up by free-spirited provincial couple Yudai (Lily Franky) and Yukari (Yoko Maki).
Throughout the film, Kore-eda ponders a multitude of themes. Invariably, Like Father Like Son touches on the philosophical debate of 'nature versus nurture': to what extent are children the product of their genes, as opposed to the environment in which they're raised? Kore-eda also cycles through socially-charged issues of class, pitting the well-to-do but coldly distant Ryota against the less well-off but emotionally accessible Yudai. The trouble is that he doesn't dwell on either issue for long. His camera flits relentlessly away from Ryusei, who is as frustratingly opaque to audiences as Keita is endearing. On occasion, too, the stereotypes are overly starkly drawn - Kore-eda leaves no room for doubt as to whom we're supposed to assume is the better parent.
As it turns out, Kore-eda's real interest is in exploring the notion of fatherhood, with his focus trained squarely on Ryota. This is less about the devastating emotional effect the switch clearly has on the children and their mothers. In fact, it's Ryota who grows up over the course of his entire harrowing journey: he learns what it truly means to be a father, beyond earning the money that will keep him and his hitherto perfect nuclear family in good comfort. Fukuyama bravely plays a role that requires him to eschew audience sympathy: he effectively lends depth and pathos to Ryota's rigidity in the face of swopping sons, as he manfully refuses to buy into the notion that families can be created out of something other than blood.
As a portrait of one man as he struggles to live with an unspeakable mistake, Like Father Like Son works very well. The film's enormously tender final five minutes feel well-earned and are quite beautifully played. Nevertheless, it does also leave the audience yearning for more. Surely Yudai and Yukari must feel the loss of the eldest brother to their two young children. The two families shuffle and shift and, ultimately, merge into each other, but the emotional fallout - barring a couple of lovely scenes (Midori taking Keita on a train ride with her) - is stilted, lost beneath the machinations of the plot and the hardly subtle trappings of Ryota's family dilemma.
Summary: A finely-wrought drama that's sombre and realistic, even while weighted down with stereotypes and a lack of subtlety.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Hollywood has been running out of ideas for years remakes, sequels, prequels and reboots now seem to be the order of the day. What's hard to imagine is why anyone thought a remake of Endless Love was necessary in the first place. The 1981 film of the same name based on a pulpy, albeit well-regarded, novel by Scott Spencer wasn't even that good to begin with. At least that version of the story had the distinction of starring a young, nubile Brooke Shields, not to mention a title song that became more famous than the movie itself. This remake manages to be both extremely bland and painfully melodramatic, bled of almost any hint of controversy or genuine complexity and darkness.
Jade Butterfield (Gabriella Wilde) is the quintessential poor little rich girl: a beautiful, blonde ice princess who has shut herself in with her parents, Hugh (Bruce Greenwood) and Anne (Joely Richardson), after the untimely death of her brother Chris. David (Alex Pettyfer) is a kid from the poorer side of town who has nursed a crush on her throughout high school. She's college-bound, he just wants to work in his dad's (Robert Patrick) workshop. When they finally connect, sparks fly and Jade starts to re-think the safe, perfect future she's planned with Hugh.
It's all very cookie-cutter high-school romantic melodrama. Nothing about this film feels particularly fresh or smart, although it does start out a little better than you'd expect. But, after the initial meet-cute between Jade and a thoroughly smitten David, Endless Love quickly descends into trashy predictability: Hugh does everything within his power to get rid of David, but the spark of love and lust between the star-crossed couple burns so hot and bright that nothing will stand in their way.
What's frustrating is that the film has almost completely excised anything even remotely complex about its plot and characters. The 1981 movie may have been faintly terrible and soapy, but it at least made a stab at psychological darkness, suggesting that the 'endless love' of the title bordered more on creepy, damaging obsession than sweet, romantic love. There's no such suggestion here: David is troubled but ultimately noble; Jade is purely, truely in love; and it's the curmudgeonly Hugh who must realise the errors of his ways.
The cast is watchable but not really memorable. Pettyfer broods as if he knows he's meant for better things. Wilde is effortlessly, often stunningly beautiful, but doesn't have much to offer beyond that. Greenwood has the most scenery to chew he practically twirls an invisible moustache and cackles at some points but it's Richardson who walks away with the film's few affecting moments (even though her character loses much of its shock value in morphing into the archetypal loyal, loving housewife).
You would imagine that, in a cinematic landscape overrun by remakes, these films would at the minimum have something interesting to say about the times in which we live now. They can make a case for their existence, perhaps, by being a little edgier than the original films: explaining why there's a need to tell this old story again. Endless Love doesn't really manage that. Instead, by forgoing depth and darkness for schmaltz and sentiment, it ends up being even safer and sweeter than a movie shot over thirty years ago.
Summary: This remake is largely inoffensive which is probably its biggest problem.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars