Colin Firth and Jim Broadbent are two fine actors, and they mostly succeed at making When Did You Last See Your Father? worth watching. They don't get much help, though, from director Anand Tucker (Shopgirl), who does his damnedest to turn Blake Morrison's memoir, set in 1989 England, into a cheesy Hallmark special. Nearly every plot point is melodramatically accompanied by Barrington Pheloung's tear-jerky score, and Tucker spends more time symbolically framing shots through glass and reflections than a first-year film school student. In related news, there's actually someone named Barrington Pheloung.
The strongest element here, aside from the duo of Firth and Broadbent, is screenwriter David Nicholls' adaptation of Morrison's memoir. The charismatic, popular Arthur (Broadbent) is prone to "minor duplicities" and "little scandals" (i.e., he cheats on his wife), and he utterly outshines his son, the meek, bookwormy Blake (Firth). When Arthur falls gravely ill (the worrisome phrase "fecal vomiting" is used), Blake recalls growing up with his father, and there's a genuine tenderness in their bond, alongside furious resentment and passive aggression. This should be a well-acted, complex story about a conflicted son coming to terms with his father's final days; unfortunately, every time Arthur and Blake connect or clash, the "cry now" music swells with all the subtlety of a Full House episode. In lieu of end credits, one half expects a "The More You Know" PSA logo to come glittering onto the screen.