Miramax is a company with a variety of reputations: A major studio for independents, a perennial Oscar tm contender, experts of the platformed release, a personal chew toy for Harvey Weinstein—all have been proven over the years. Another trait they have become renowned for is the acquisition of films only to let them grow stale in their vaults. Last year alone they let loose into theaters long-stagnant titles like “Buffalo Soldiers” and the Ashton Kutcher effort “My Boss’ Daughter”, films that barely registered with audiences. The dismal returns had some suggesting this was the basis of the reluctance to release them, but I ask what compelled the studio to purchase their rights to begin with.
This brings up another less recognized Miramax practice, sneaking Billy Bob Thornton movies into video stores. Last spring his “comedy” “Waking Up in Reno” was released for rental after growing moss on the studio shelves for some time, and now the start of this year sees and even older attempt—“Daddy and Them”. To give you a sense of how long this was in limbo his co-star here is Laura Dern, who was also his lover at the time. This pre-dates his tempestuous relationship, and the plasma-filled amulets, he shared with Angelina Jolie and by the time of this release he and A.Jo. have already had their tattoos sanded off.
It does not take long to see why this film was allowed to grow stale—about one scene. We see Billy Bob running after Laura, playing husband and wife Claude and Ruby Montgomery. Claude is in pursuit because his bride has a gun that she wants to use on herself. After wrestling the piece away from her we hear for the first time the cause of her strife is her jealousy over the fact that Claude and her sister once had been lovers, back a’fore these two got married. Get ready, this is a refrain we’ll hear from the reedy wife throughout the picture. Claude himself has issues, always bemoaning the fact that he is not as physically cut as Ruby’s ex-lovers. Attempted suicide and marital discord on the neighbor’s front lawn, and this is a purported comedy.
While dealing with a relationship that has more problems than a Yugo in winter they receive some other distressing news. Their uncle Hazel has been arrested for armed robbery and so the family is going to all come together as a result of the tragedy. I have to assume this is a Southern tradition as it has never occurred to me to follow up on an extended family member’s incarceration with a road trip, arriving at the house with a covered dish. Usually my tradition in this case would involve paying closer attention to the caller ID so I do not end up on the hook with a bondsman.
Thornton was still basking in the glow of his Oscar tm win for “Sling Blade” while this film was being shot and as a result he manages to gather an impressive cast to play the Montgomery family. Dern’s mother plays Ruby’s mother, and we also get Kelly Preston as the sister, singer John Price as a brother, and Jim Varney gives his last performance as uncle Hazel, before dying from cancer in 2000. Heading this list is none other than Matlock himself, Andy Griffith, as Claude’s father O.T. Montgomery. It tells the whole story here that instead of being allowed to bring some needed class to the proceedings Griffith instead gets reduced to saying lines that includes talking about Hazel “getting corn-holed in jail”. We ain’t in Mayberry here.
There is very little in the way of plot as this plays out as a character play. There are numerous dining scenes and trips together to church, the lawyers, and the jail, and along the way we get to discover that Claude and Ruby’s strife is a microcosm of a wider familial malfunction. The primary components are heavy drinking and a lack of communication—that is unless there is screaming taking place. Rare is the scene where Ruby doesn’t find cause to rage at Claude about his previous time with her sister, and by the halfway point, after listening to her caterwaul for the dozenth time, I was in need of a bracer myself.
There were really only two instances where I could sight a slight degree of mirth in this comedy. Jamie Lee Curtis and Ben Affleck had some all too brief scenes together as a married May/December pair of lawyers who have a hard time concentrating on work and not their own problems. And late in the game Claude and his brothers get loaded and drive to a nightclub, but Ruby drives up to an accident scene to discover the boys had plowed into a pickup. The guys are in good spirits while on gurneys and the scene is relatively funny—until Ruby finds yet another reason to get jealous and yell at Claude some more.
Plotless and pedantic, “Daddy and Them” is supposed to be a lighthearted look at family dysfunction in the Deep South, but the characters are not enjoyable enough to care about. This is the kind of family that inspires you to become a more disciplined investor so you can save enough to move away to a better neighborhood.