Growing up to Be Like Dad Is Not a Good Thing in Netflix Original ‘Like Father’

Harry Chapin’s song “Cats in the Cradle’ tells of the father who never had enough time for his growing son. When dad finally has the time, it’s too late. His boy grew up to be just like him.  In the sweet-natured comedy “Like Father,” Kelsey Grammer finds himself in the same predicament but with a difference. It’s his daughter that he abandoned at an early age. And now he has returned to her life in an effort to make it better. All in all, “Like Father” attempts to recapture the screwball comedies of the 1930’s.

In a switch from the sweet-tempered personas of Veronica Mars or Princess Anna in “Frozen,” Kristin Bell takes on a slightly rougher edge, playing ambitious advertising exec Rachel Hamilton. The movie opens with her wedding. The groom, laid back and less materialistic, awaits his bride to cross the aisle. But Rachel is on her cell phone conducting business.

Taking a seat in one of the back rows, Rachel’s estranged father Harry (Kelsey Grammer) arrives in time to see the wedding fall apart. Playing second fiddle to a business deal, the groom-to-be walks out. Harry tries to leave unnoticed but not before Rachel notices him. Instead of chasing after her groom, she chases after Harry, the father she hasn’t seen since her childhood.

Not to let a broken wedding prevent her from securing a large potato chip account, Rachel goes to work that same day and has a break down. That night, Harry comes to her apartment loaded with apologies. They go drinking together and as things happen in movies like this, drunken dad and daughter end up together on the cruise ship originally intended for her honeymoon.

The next hour or so is filled with cute arguments resulting in slapstick, warm moments of bonding with fellow travelers, and awkward times when Harry and Rachel find themselves explaining to nearly everyone that they are father and daughter and not some May/ November romance. They share their dinner table with a cross section of America: the young black couple, the old retired couple, and the good-looking gay couple. Rachel, desperate to escape, has a brief fling with recently divorced Stephen (Seth Rogan).

The screenplay by Lauren Miller Rogan with story by Anders Bard doesn’t push any boundaries, although dad and daughter being confused for newlyweds can feel a bit uncomfortable at times. “Like Father” is actress Miller’s feature debut as director. Creatively, it’s not inspirational but at the same time, there are no major missteps. It serves the story, keeps the pacing on track, and provides enough weight to the emotion to make it convincing.

The film benefits from an energized performance by Kristen Bell who maintains an earnest sweetness despite the script’s effort to make her ambitious, cold and a little too quick to hop into bed with strangers. Bell does her best to sell it even though at times it is not a perfect fit.

Grammer moves beyond his “Frazier” persona to play a once successful businessman who is now lonely and repentant of his past decisions. Grammer and Bell maintain a conflicted relationship throughout the movie, at times antagonistic and at times forgiving.

Sometimes the estranged father/daughter plot can feel like a stretch.  Still “Like Father” is a fun and heart-warming screwball comedy enhanced by charming performances from Bell and Grammer.

Like Father” begins streaming Aug. 3 on Netflix.