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RATING: R, for language and sexual references throughout.
In the Alcon Entertainment comedy “Father Figures,” Owen Wilson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Wedding Crashers”) and Ed Helms (“The Hangover” films, “We’re the Millers”) star as fraternal twins Kyle and Peter who accidentally discover they’ve been living with a lie all their lives. The kindly man in the photo on their mantle isn’t their father after all, but an invention their mother (Glenn Close) concocted to conceal the truth: that she actually doesn’t know who their real father is. See, it was the seventies, and things were crazy, and…well, you know.
Armed with only a handful of clues, the brothers resolve to find the mystery man in what results in a wild road trip of discovery and revelations—about their mother, themselves and each other.
“Father Figures” marks the directorial debut of veteran cinematographer Lawrence Sher (“The Hangover” films). It also stars Oscar winner J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”), comedian Katt Williams, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback-turned-actor Terry Bradshaw, Ving Rhames (the “Mission Impossible” films), Harry Shearer (“The Simpsons”), and Oscar nominee June Squibb (“Nebraska”), with Oscar winner Christopher Walken (“The Deer Hunter”), and Oscar nominee Glenn Close (“Albert Nobbs,” “Guardians of the Galaxy”) as Kyle and Peter’s mother.
Sher directed from a screenplay written by Justin Malen (“Office Christmas Party”).
The film was produced by Academy Award nominee Ivan Reitman (“Up in the Air”), Ali Bell (“Draft Day”) and Alcon Entertainment’s Academy Award nominees Broderick Johnson and Andrew A. Kosove (“The Blind Side”). Serving as executive producers were Tom Pollock, Scott Parish, Chris Cowles, Chris Fenton, and Timothy M. Bourne.
Sher’s behind-the-scenes team included director of photography John Lindley (“St. Vincent”), production designer Stephen H. Carter (art director, “Birdman”), editor Dana E. Glauberman (“Draft Day”), and two-time Oscar nominated costume designer Julie Weiss (“Frida,” “Twelve Monkeys”). The music was composed by Rob Simonsen (“Foxcatcher”).
An Alcon Entertainment presentation, a Montecito Picture Company Production in association with DMG Entertainment, “Father Figures” is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment company. Rated R for language and sexual references throughout. www.fatherfigures.movie
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Prepare for the Ultimate Paternity Quest
The last time Kyle and Peter Reynolds were headed in the same direction was in the delivery room, and someone was yelling “push!” From that moment on, through school and dating, teams and family vacations, to work and every major life decision, they couldn’t be more at odds in every possible way.
As director Lawrence Sher sees it, the brothers are the exception to that notion of twins being mystically connected. “Kyle and Peter grew up different from each other and are even more committed to their points of view now, because life has a way of reinforcing that. I believe you get back the energy you put out; if you think life is awesome, despite its problems, it will be awesome. That’s Kyle. If you think it’s hard, then you’re probably going to be stuck in the slow lane every time, and that’s Peter. He expects things to be difficult and unfair, and he can’t catch a break, whereas Kyle has been very lucky and feels the world is full of joy.”
But when the guys come home for their mother’s wedding, they get a shock that will galvanize them to a single purpose.
“It turns out their father isn’t remotely who they thought,” offers Ed Helms, who stars as the tightly wound, glass-half-empty Peter. “The story their mom gave them all these years was a fairy tale, when, in fact, she might not even know for sure who he was.”
Though Peter typically reacts with indignation, and Kyle with curiosity, this profoundly WTF revelation lands them both on the same page… more or less. It also sends them on a life-changing odyssey of disaster and discovery to find their real father, wherever it takes them, and whoever he may be. In other words: road trip.
“Growing up with brothers, I have some experience in the way that you can love them and they can drive you crazy,” says Owen Wilson, who stars as the perpetually laid-back optimist, Kyle. “It’s a very thin line. I think the only real fights I’ve ever had have been with my brothers. Family trips were memorable for the arguments and my dad swearing he was never going to do it again because ‘Something always happens when you guys get together.’”
A lifelong fan of road trips and what they can reveal, Sher says, “The fun thing about the road is its forward momentum and the fact that you just keep going to the next destination. It’s an allegory for life. You may have a plan, but there will be stops and turns and side trips. Part of the adventure of this movie is about how we can take for granted the people who are closest to us—and what better way for these two to be reminded of that, than to be stuck together and forced to confront their differences? Sometimes, pressure produces diamonds.”
And sometimes, pressure just builds up until it explodes.
“Father Figures” is Wilson and Helms’ first big-screen pairing, and since their interaction is the backbone of every scene there was a lot riding on their chemistry. Luckily, there wasn’t much of a learning curve. “Owen Wilson is one of the funniest people I have ever met in my entire life,” Helms proclaims. “Any time you meet a co-star, you spend about a week or two figuring out how they work and what makes them tick. With Owen, it took about two days for us to find this rhythm and be in sync and crack each other up.”
“Whatever I was doing, if I said A, guaranteed he would say Z,” Wilson adds.
Though Kyle and Peter come a little unglued upon learning the photo they cherished as kids was not actually their honorably deceased dad but some random actor, it also starts them looking at their mom in a new light. This woman they thought they knew so well…who is she, really, and who was she, back then? Such was the germ of inspiration for screenwriter Justin Malen. Describing a moment familiar for many people, he says, “The story came from my looking at old pictures of my parents and wondering what I didn’t know about them and who they were before I came along.”
Starring as the boys’ intrepid single mother, Helen, Glenn Close points out, “She has a good heart. It’s just that she was a wild child in the ‘70s in New York City, partying in places like Studio 54, and sowing her wild oats when monogamy wasn’t a priority.”
Helen feels their quest is a bad idea and tells them so. But, having had her big lie exposed, she no longer holds the high ground. Still, her presence figures into every step they take.
“Father Figures” marks Sher’s directorial debut, following a catalogue of cinematography credits that include many of the sharpest and most successful comedies in recent memory. A twin himself, he was drawn to the script not only for its mix of warmth and raunchy humor, but its portrayal of the sibling dynamic—in all its glory and insanity. “I have an identical twin and we are very different and have been so all our lives, so I’m very much interested in the way siblings interact,” he says.
“Alcon has worked with many first-time directors,” notes producer Broderick Johnson. “I think the most important thing with any director is their storytelling acumen, and their sensibility in communicating with actors and crew. Larry brings a great combination of talent, as someone who thoroughly understands the filmmaking process from a technical standpoint and is also a genuine storyteller.”
Citing a “very funny screenplay” as another huge appeal, Alcon producer Andrew A. Kosove adds, “These are characters you can really care about. You care about their relationship and the journey they’re on. Plus, we liked the fact that fundamentally it’s a mystery. You don’t know what’s going to happen. At each turn you’ve had some good laughs, but it’s still building toward a big reveal.”
Sher and Malen worked together on some of the story’s finer points. Malen then remained on set during production, to help capture the exchange between the film’s improv-savvy leads, giving them the freedom to run with their ideas and bond believably as brothers.
“Larry brought some personal experience into the mix,” says producer Ivan Reitman. “He was very passionate about the story and wanted to be sure it was told with authenticity. There are a lot of very funny moments but you always believe in the truth of it, and in their relationship.”
That relationship was always their touchstone. “We knew it was going to be the love story of the movie,” affirms producer Ali Bell. “But first they have to let out everything that’s been bottled up inside—and that’s the fun part. This script made us laugh out loud but it also resonated in how siblings deal with each other and the way families come apart and come back together.”
As the guys follow a trail of 40-year-old bread crumbs delineating their mother’s sexual history across four states, all in pursuit of their paternity, there’s not a lot they can hold back.
“Essentially, this movie is about putting human beings in human situations,” Sher states. It just happens that some of those situations are outrageous and chaotic, but all the while we’re trying to keep it as honest as possible. Unlike friends, it’s hard to escape family.”