I don't understand Anand Tucker. His first big film, Hilary and Jackie, was an adaptation of a memoir of sorts, and there he seems to have kept a healthy distance from his subjects. His last project, however, seemed to have no director at all—every detail of Shopgirl was plainly designed and controlled by the film's screenwriter, producer, and star, Steve Martin. Without a megastar pulling the strings, you might expect Tucker's new movie to bear more than a trace of its director's aesthetics, ideas, or personality. Unfortunately, When Did You Last See Your Father? is an adaptation of a memoir by a peculiarly self-absorbed writer, Blake Morrison, about whose nonfiction book on child murderers the New York Times once observed, "He has taken the crime away from the victim and his killers, their families, Liverpool, Britain, indeed the entire outside world, and transformed it into an episode in the spiritual life of Blake Morrison." Like Shopgirl, When Did You Last See Your Father? isn't so much a film by a director as a fantasy sprung straight from the mind of its narcissistic writer and subject.
The flashback portion of the story—about a scrawny British lad named Blake (Bradley Johnson) being continually overshadowed by his self-centered charmer of a dad (Jim Broadbent)—is actually all right. But once the child grows up into no-longer-so-hunky Colin Firth, douchily moping about as his father slowly expires of cancer, the self-pity lands like a sack of wet flour. The irony of responding to suffocating self-regard by developing an excessive sense of self-concern is, of course, never addressed. And the mannered filmmaking—particularly a swirling climax meant to express grief and the healing power of time—is unintentionally hilarious.