I feel as though An Actor Prepares was somewhat mis-sold to me. ‘It’s father and son time. Whether they like it or not.’, giggles the tagline. ‘Bad dad. Angry son.’ nods the poster knowingly, in faded-out letters repeated across its background. ‘After suffering a heart attack, a world famous, hard-drinking actor is forced to drive cross country with his estranged son… on one last madcap adventure.’ says IMDB, nudging me in the ribs. Go on! It’ll be a laugh!
No. It won’t. I know that Jeremy Irons has an Academy Award, but I’m going to come straight out and say it: this movie was seriously miscast.
There are two ways that these odd-couple, coming-together comedies usually go: thoughtful, understated, often with a bitter-sweet resolution, or madcap, over the top, in your face. And since An Actor Prepares uses the term ‘madcap’ in its promotional blurb, one assumes that it is aiming for the latter category. And yet leads Jeremy Irons and Jack Huston play most of the movie deadpan. It’s a contradiction; it doesn’t gel.
The script itself, by Steve Clark and Thomas Moffett, is actually reasonably funny, although both main characters – Atticus Smith (Jeremy Irons) and his son Adam (Jack Huston) – are barely one-dimensional. Atticus is a heavy-drinking, coke-snorting, womanising actor, with a devil-may-care attitude. Adam is a strait-laced, monogamous, feminist, film-maker. Father and son have been estranged for years. And whilst Atticus is meant to be bad but charming, and Adam is meant to be angry but good, neither character manages to be likable in any way. Adam is a doormat, because – really? In 2018, do male feminists have to be portrayed as weak? As mere comedy fodder? And Atticus, who is supposed to be all about having a good time, comes across as a little too much of a stuffed shirt.
The situational humour is there – Atticus stealing a bus, Adam’s phone going flying out of a window, Atticus stealing Adam’s iPad to jerk-off to porn – but it doesn’t get pushed far enough. These are two characters who dislike one another intensely, and the tension – not to mention the humour – should be ramping up as Adam continues to disappoint Atticus, and Atticus continues to push Adam’s buttons. Adam needs to be building up a barely contained head of steam, ready to explode when the film reaches its turning point. But Huston never seems more than a bit annoyed at his father, and Irons is merely irritating throughout.
I might, in other circumstances, say that perhaps the problem lies not with the actors, but with the director. But An Actor Prepares is both co-written and directed by Steve Clark. The man must know his own script and what he wants from it. Did he just not push Huston and Irons far enough down the keep-it-all-in, let-it-all-hang-out route? Could it be that Clark hired two actors who are just too good to play it as over the top and in your face as this script really needs? I can’t help but think that actors known specifically for their comedy roles would have vastly improved the finished movie, and I was mentally recasting it as I watched.
And then there’s the problem with the basic premise of the story. Atticus has had a heart attack and needs surgery. But first he wants to go to his daughter’s wedding. He can’t fly, because of his bad heart, so someone has to drive him there. And, apparently, the only person – the only person – who can drive him, is his estranged and reluctant son, Adam. Except – this just isn’t true. Atticus is a wealthy actor, and could easily hire a driver to take him anywhere he wanted to go. In fact, his showbiz people actually hire a bus to take him and Adam to the wedding. So Adam is now only there to keep Atticus out of trouble. Which, again, his showbiz people could have sorted for him. So the idea that these characters are forced into each other’s company just doesn’t work.
For a road movie, it certainly drags. It’s full of stops and starts, and the ‘crazy-adventures’ promised by the promotional blurb never really materialise. Approximately one hour and seven minutes in, the movie reaches its turning point, and suddenly things kick up a notch and it is almost hitting marks that it should have been hitting right from the start. It becomes more enjoyable from hereon in, but as we head towards the predictable, pedestrian, and incredibly clichéd conclusion, the characters still haven’t done enough to deserve their epiphany.
The production values are all there, and it has some top-notch talent, and yet it just falls flat. At heart its problem seems to be tone: the script says one thing and the acting another. And yet, having said all of that, An Actor Prepares isn’t a terrible movie – it’s just not a very good one. I laughed – inside my head – a couple of times, and chuckled out loud once, and that was at a visual gag. So if that’s the level of hilarity that you’re looking for, by all means, see this movie. But maybe wait til it comes out Netflix.
An Actor Prepares is now available in selected cinemas.