Fathers and Sons
1992, R, 109 min. Directed by Paul Mones. Starring Jeff Goldblum, Rory Cochrane, Mitchell Marchand, Ellen Greene, Samuel L. Jackson, Joie Lee, Rosanna Arquette.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 8, 1993
This is an interesting little independent film that's liable to get lost in the post-Christmas dump pile and it deserves far better than that. Though its screenplay is at times too preciously poetic (borrowing the title Fathers and Sons from Turgenev's great novel gives you some idea of this movie's ambitions), it also manages to make palpable some of the unspoken distances and connections between people. Goldblum plays the former movie director, Max B. Fish who, after getting crazy from the business, moves with his wife and son down to the Jersey shore and opens a little bookshop called Fish Books. Shortly after the move, his wife dies of cancer and he and his son Ed (Cochrane) are left alone. Her death occurred five years prior to the events in Fathers and Sons, though her absence is a real presence throughout. Max has a good number of demons he's continually fighting, amongst them a drinking problem, guilt over his wife's death and the inherent problems of fathering a teenage boy. He's also starring in a modernistic local theatre production of Don Quixote (Greene and Jackson appear in small roles as his co-stars, Lee as the director). Max jokes that he's “chasing windmills down the shore.” Ed has his share of teenage problems, amongst them a seductive girl who's bound to disappoint him, a personal cosmology that connects his fate to the destruction of the dolphins and the irresistible lure of a mysterious, psychedelic drug called chew. (Cochrane is well-cast here as Goldblum's son, with his saucer eyes and beseeching look, he makes a physically believable offspring.) There is an especially nice sequence in which Max's temptation to drink is crosscut with Ed's experiences “chewing the chew.” In its depiction of tripping and the realities of hip, Nineties parents dealing with their children's experimentations with drugs and sex, Fathers and Sons feels incredibly right. This movie has a way of illuminating the spaces between what is said and what is not said. It's at its best when it inhabits this area because when it talks, you occasionally want to cover its mouth (the script is also by director Mones). Arquette pops into the movie at a couple points in a superfluous role as a boardwalk fortune teller. Then there's the lurking menace of the Shore Killer who's loose in the vicinity. He may or may not be that strange character who seems to be following Ed and he may or may not be the author of a curious book that's part-psychobabble and part-alien mysticism and grabs the imagination of Belmar, N.J.'s young people. The Shore Killer aspects of the story are a bit hokey, but its depiction of mystical susceptibility is right on target. Fathers and Sons, despite its problems, is a perpetually intriguing viewing experience. Just someone please stop Mones before he tackles Sons and Lovers as his next project. He needs to develop greater trust in his own speaking voice.