COME TO DADDY / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: ANT TIMPSON / SCREENPLAY: TOBY HARVARD / STARRING: ELIJAH WOOD, STEPHEN MCHATTIE, MARTIN DONOVAN, MICHAEL SMILEY / RELEASE DATE: TBC
How much mileage can you get from Elijah ‘Frodo’ Wood gazing in torment at the middle distance with a daft haircut? Quite a lot as it happens, as long as you keep the plot just a little to the left of normal. Come to Daddy is the latest writing credit from The Greasy Strangler’s Toby Harvard. Based on an idea by director Ant Timpson (Housebound), it has a strange brand of humour that saves it from by-the-numbers sick’n’funny stupor.
Wood is the rather beautifully named Norbert. He’s come out of his hipster haven complete with his gold phone and chat of impressive industry contacts to meet his estranged father in an idyllic seashore home that looks a cross between an Ewok treetop village and a space ship. Nevertheless, the man who awaits him (Pontypool’s Stephen McHattie) is an unfortunately cantankerous sort whose recourse to booze sees him call junior a cunt and apparently consider offing the little squirt for the temerity of turning up.
The real fun of Come to Daddy is not the violence, which is pleasantly slapstick in all the right places. It’s not the dialogue, which twists in some beautifully ways. It’s not even Elijah Wood, though he can still access his haunted-little-boy look as well as show psychotic flickers we saw in Franck Khalfoun’s 2012 remake of Maniac. It’s the characters who bubble away beneath the surface and show the manners that make Wood seem so at odds with his father are nothing compared to the weirdness of non-La La Land. There are government officials who lack any form of filter, a belligerent best mate who won’t be getting any thank you cards from the British Tourism Industry and Martin Donovan (Big Little Lies) as a fiercely practical fly-by-night who gets his just deserts.
The film is at its best when director Ant Timpson exploits the ludicrousness of this situation and emphasises the characters’ pauses as they try to come up with vaguely sensible (and only vaguely sensible) plans. Zosia MacKenzie’s production design is inspired and the soundtrack gives us enough of Norbert’s ghosts to be getting on with while we truly get going. The film does drag a little after it’s been established the Hobbit will do what he needs to do to stay alive. That said, a final turn towards the roll-neck sweaters of sentimental poetry seems strangely apt precisely because the film is all over the place anyway. It’s a slight but fun romp that swaps gross-out in favour of titteringly-sadistic surrealism.