A Family Man: Terribly Unoriginal, Horribly Manipulative & Just Plain Boring
Initially titled The Headhunter’s Calling, Mark Williams’ directorial debut is as manipulative, tedious and generic as they come in telling a story about one particularly unlikable workaholic who puts his career ahead of spending time with his family.
The story is set in Chicago and it is centered on Dane Jensen (Butler struggling to maintain a wavering American accent); a self-centered and a manipulative headhunter whose highly competitive and merciless way of doing business has qualified him for a big promotion at the recruitment agency where he works. Having learned that his equally slimy boss, Ed Blackridge (Dafoe), is thinking of leaving, Dane is ready to pull out all of the stops to get his position, but in order to land it, he will first have to beat out the competition, including his similarly spirited and bloodthirsty colleague, Lynn (Brie).
With all of his time and focus devoted to the job, Dane’s family life with wife, Elise (Mol), ten-year-old son, Ryan (Jenkins) and young daughter, Lauren (Butters), is on the rocks with Elise constantly having to remind her workaholic husband that spending time with his family is more important. Dane’s priorities soon take a drastic shift, however, when Ryan is diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia with the highly-driven headhunter, who is so used to being ahead of the game, now being forced to reexamine his entire life and find ways to come to terms with the severity of the situation.
Coming across as a part-comedy, part-redemption drama – with a sprinkling of corporate thrills thrown into the mix – A Family Man is unsure whether it wants to make you laugh or cry. Ultimately, it doesn’t manage to do either with, Dubuque’s tonally-confused and overly-calculated script, which tends to find ways to overplay its hand at every possible turn, struggling to convey and develop the story in an honest and an organic way. Part of the problem, and probably its biggest one, is the fact that the audience will have a hard time rooting for its protagonist; Butler fails to convince and relies on his usual charms to earn a passing grade. The fact that his character tries to redeem himself in the story’s tonally-deaf second act, doesn’t help his situation further with the dying-son plot turn feeling so out of place that it’s almost hard to give it any credibility.
Hard to connect to and even harder to take seriously, the story does boast a few touching father-son moments and Jenkins’ performance as the young Ryan is moving to some degree. However, the film never really manages to compensate for its lack of creativity and freshness as well as find ways to rise above its mediocre script which takes every opportunity given to force the viewers into feeling something they don’t.