SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Bradley Grant Smith, who usually acts, gives us a stunning directorial debut with Our Father. Set in Chicago, the story focuses on sisters Beta (Baize Buzan) and Zelda (Allison Torem), who are 25 and 23, respectively. At the outset, Beta is sleeping in her car in front of the library as she just split up with her long-term boyfriend, Grant (Josh Bywater). But Beta’s about to attend graduate school at Yale University, so it seems as though her bad luck is about to end.
That is until she receives a phone call from her stepmother, Jane (Ann Whitney). Beta and Zelda’s father killed himself by sitting in a running car in a garage. The family dynamic is complicated. Beta and especially Zelda do not get along with Jane and her sons. They’re their father’s two children from a years-long affair he had with their mother. After that, he returned to Jane, his wife, and their children, only to divorce her for good a few years later. Beta and Zelda’s mother is out of the picture.
Something strange happens during the reading of the will: their father’s brother, Jerry (Austin Pendelton), is mentioned. Beta and Zelda have never heard of him, and he is presumed dead by Jane and the brothers, even though there’s no real reason for them to think that. So, Beta and Zelda set off to find out who Jerry is, track him down, and see if he has any answers as to why their family has such issues with mental health.
“…Beta and Zelda set off to find out who Jerry is, track him down, and see if he has any answers…”
This is just the tip of the iceberg for the story of Our Father. There are layers upon layers revealed about both sisters and the other characters. It’s interesting because we are finding out the information about the sisters at the same time they’re confessing their secrets. The sisters are finally showing each other who they are, and the well-written script authentically realizes their evolving relationship. I’m amazed that Bradley Grant Smith captures women’s personalities and responses to trauma so authentically.
I think that this film is a very impressive debut feature, and I hope that Smith’s future work is just as compelling and honest. All the performances are great, but a special shout-out needs to be given to Austin Pendelton for bringing his weird brand of melancholy to the role of Jerry. I’m also really interested in seeing Allison Torem in more films. If I had a favorite sister, it would be her, probably because I relate to the total trainwreck that is her life as opposed to the more organized disaster that Beta’s life has devolved into.
I am not ashamed to admit that I didn’t exactly have it together in my twenties. If you did, congratulations, but that’s beside the point right now. The point is, watch Our Father if you like slightly off-kilter family dramas. Thanks to the excellent writing and acting, I think this will be just your cup of dysfunctional tea.
Our Father screened at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.
"…Smith captures women's personalities and responses to trauma so authentically."