Our Father premiered this week at SXSW Online 2021 in the Narrative Feature category. Written and directed by Bradley Grant Smith, the film follows estranged sisters Beta (Baize Buzan) and Zelda (Allison Torem) as they seek out their mysterious Uncle Jerry in the wake of their father’s sudden death. Minor spoilers for Our Father to follow.
Who do you turn to when you have nothing left? Our Father is a poignant story that unfolds like an open wound. There are years of raw pain, discomfort, sadness, and anger balanced precariously in the forefront of our characters’ minds, something that both Buzan’s Beta and Torem’s Zelda exemplify well from the get-go. Whereas Buzan carries her character with purpose, someone that’s itching to break free from their current life situation, Torem plays Zelda with an unflinching honesty that doesn’t sugarcoat her personal struggles.
Despite the Hollywood projection of the typical nuclear family, this film is a stark reminder of the difficult, lonely, and complicated reality that many people face. Beta and Zelda’s father had an entirely different family before his affair with their mother, and there’s a huge age gap between them and their half brothers. Now that their father is dead, their mother is nowhere to be found, and their relationship with their father’s first ex-wife and sons is hardly familial, the sisters have nobody else to turn to. And to make matters worse, they can barely get along as it is. Beta and Zelda have a conversation at one point in the film where talk about how they’re technically adults, and yet they still want and need another adult to depend on. This is an accurate and relatable observation of a real, valid problem that many young adults face as they work their way through independence in their 20s.
So who can blame them for embarking on a wild hunt to seek out their maybe-dead-hopefully-alive Uncle Jerry that they’ve never met, or even heard of, for that matter? Our Father begins to hit a stride when Beta and Zelda, after some heated scenes and difficult moments, start their journey in a diner with nothing more than an obscure letter to go by. There’s a heartwarming aspect to watching the way that they slip back into a sisterly connection, despite the obvious distance that’s formed between them over the years. And it’s just downright fun to watch them piece together the clues, especially the Gerry/Jerry piano shop debacle. The film’s original score, which comes from Bradley Grant Smith himself, is beautifully impressive and adds a lovely layer to the sisters’ adventures.
Though Our Father‘s underlying story begins with a promising potential, it unfortunately falls a bit flat as the film enters its final act. There was a heartbreaking beauty to the way that Buzan and Austin Pendleton’s Jerry play off of one another, which produced some of the strongest scenes in the movie. However, the narrative that then follows in Beta’s later search for Zelda feels rushed and not entirely sure of where it wants to land. There’s undoubtedly a captivating idea in Beta’s ultimate realization that Zelda does have other people in her life who care about her (especially those wholesome boarding house ladies!), meanwhile Beta — the one who seemingly has it together, besides the whole sleeping in her car thing — is truly alone now. But at that point, it felt like the story could have still used one final note to round itself out before the credits began to roll.
Endings aside, Our Father is to be commended for the honesty in its storytelling.
Check out the rest of our SXSW Online 2021 coverage here!