Much of the drama and conflict plays out like a stage drama where the characters work through life’s struggles via a series of conversations and confrontations. The reason Phoebe’s Father is justifiably a movie is that part of Phoebe’s “therapy” comes in the form of her newfound passion for cycling and racing and features footage of her riding around.
Much like a theater workshop, the story and character development was a group process. It started with a general story, and as the actors were cast, the narrative and dialogue fleshed itself out through repeated rehearsals and improv sessions. This process allowed the cast to make their characters their own, and the filmmaker guided their arcs into a cohesive story. Unlike your typical improv film, character and plot were developed through grueling workshop sessions instead of just showing up on set to “make magic happen.”
“The dialogue is tight and well-crafted.”
I mention all this theater stuff because I admire Phoebe’s Father and how it was constructed and executed. I’m always a fan of human drama, and the struggles of this family are familiar and relatable. Helde’s film is a light drama with a good message behind it.
Also, as a professional improviser, I’ve seen my fair share of improvised movies and television episodes to know that it’s hard to do without tipping off the fact that everyone is making s**t up. It seems that a lot of creative types think they can pull off the next This is Spinal Tap! and people will fall in love with their film. Until I read the notes about Phoebe’s Father, I had no clue that the story had an improvisation background—a testament to the process the cast and crew went through. The dialogue is tight and well-crafted. It trims the fat often associated with improvised dialogue and, in turn, gives us authenticity.
Having said all this, Phoebe’s Father has its weaknesses, particularly in the area of stakes and status. Those who do improv will get this. Phoebe and her father are low-energy characters. Both are depressed and have lost their passions in life. As a result, everything comes across as low energy, tonally speaking. Phoebe definitely has a character arc, but it is not broad or high enough to make the story cinematically engaging. It’s weird, but as an avid movie-goer, I want to see characters that are larger than life—characters with broader arcs than my personal one. Phoebe’s Father tells an excellent and insightful story but needed just a bit more energy and vitality injected into the final cut.
"…I had no clue that the story had an improvisation background..."