Veteran actor Larry Clarke makes a decent directorial debut with this semi-autobiographical family reunion flick
In his long and impressive career, everyman Larry Clarke has amassed more acting credits than you can shake a clapperboard at. He first trod the boards for some time before landing a part in Frank Oz’s In & Out and has been on stage and screen ever since. Probably best known for his recurring role as Detective Morris LaMotte in Law & Order, and recently as Twin Peaks’ Detective T. Fusco, the veteran actor has finally decided to try on a scriptwriting/direction combo for size. And it fits him pretty well.
In his semi-autobiographical debut feature, 3 Days with Dad (aka Life Support), Clarke introduces us to his character Eddie Mills during the opening credits. Over a slideshow of family snaps, we’re privy to a string of frantic phone calls between the affable hotel doorman and various members of the Mills clan, learning plenty about this crazy Catholic bunch in the process. It’s all fairly simple really – someone back home is sick, Eddie’s too broke to get there, and they’re all pissed at him. After just over a minute of trim exposition, Clarke segues into an offensive woodwind rendition of Amazing Grace, and it’s soon clear we’re at the funeral of his loathsome dad Bob (Brian Dennehy). From then on, he unfurls an articulate nonlinear narrative, snaking through the days leading to and following Bob’s demise.
As things move on, Eddie delivers a clumsy, blackly comic eulogy near-rivaling Jim Cummings’ Thunder Road cringe-fest, before the rest of the funeral goes on and the family process their patriarch’s passing – tears, squabbles and all. The writer-director cuts back to a past Mills gathering, where the bearish Bob knocks his under-achieving son’s life choices, and we know why Eddie finds it so hard to return to his hometown for the titular 3 days dominating the bulk of the film’s 90-minute runtime.
As Eddie muddles on, bound by duty, all the makings of a reunion flick are present and correct. There’s a tonne of sibling rivalry, the obligatory boozy dive-bar catch-up with old pals, and, of course, a fortuitous run-in with love lost – leading to more than bargained for. Yes, we’ve been there, we’ve done that, and we’ve got the t-shirt. Though, the aim of the game here likely isn’t to deliver anything fresh, but rather to offer a realistic yet funny insight into how people tackle death. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to bid your final farewell to a parent – a callous one or otherwise – you’ll get it. Clarke sure does, his nuanced family dynamics scarily spot-on. And as he steps between scenes, missing zero beats, every moment of humor is carefully placed exactly where they’d arise in reality.
The actor-filmmaker has been in the biz for a while now, and the roster he’s put together for 3 Days With Dad certainly shows that he’s made a pal or two along the way. Most of the standout performances come from his female cast, with Lesley Ann Warren (Desperate Housewives) appearing as pushy stepmother Dawn, Julie Ann Emery (Better Call Saul) as Susan, the one who got away, and Mo Gaffney (That ‘70s Show) as dependable sister Diane. Clarke also ropes in Tom Arnold and J.K. Simmons, but their respective turns as brother Andy and tactless trainee funeral director Joey are disappointingly brief.
3 Days with Dad won’t win any awards, nor will it win over a mainstream audience. Even so, it’s a nice movie about an awful situation most of us will have to face at some point in our lives. And it sets Clarke off on the right track, proving he’s got enough know-how to bash out a sophomore effort. Whether he does remains to be seen.