Posted on August 30, 2018 at 12:20 pm
The third movie this year with an acclaimed older actor playing a selfish, negligent father who must be driven across country by an angry, estranged adult child has some familiar tropes, but also some distinct pleasures. Following “Kodachrome” (Ed Harris, Jason Sudeikis), and “Boundaries” (Christopher Plummer, Vera Farmiga) we have “An Actor Prepares,” with Jeremy Irons and Jack Huston. The title comes from the legendary book by Constantin Stanislavski that is a core text for method actors. The joke here is that Jeremy Irons plays a three-time Oscar-winning, substance-abusing actor named Atticus Smith who seems to have no method to his madness and does not really prepare for anything.
Atticus is a mess. His agent (Ben Schwartz) is trying desperately to keep him together so he can literally play God in a movie. Atticus is looking forward to the wedding of his “favorite child” (Mamie Gummer). But both the movie and attending the wedding are in jeopardy when he has a heart attack and his doctor says he needs surgery. She reluctantly agrees to delay it for a week so he can go to the wedding, but he has to take his medicine, refrain from sex, drugs, and alcohol, and he cannot go by plane. That is how Adam (Jack Huston) ends up on a road trip with the father he despises, as a favor to the sister he loves.
The road trip is one of the oldest of all stories, going back to The Odyssey and before. It’s a lovely metaphor of life’s journey and provides opportunities for characters to have many seemingly random interactions, from happy to scary to moving, that help them resolve their differences by working together and learning about one another. This one involves bickering and recrimination, many opportunities for Atticus to do or say wildly inappropriate things and Adam to disapprove, a switch of vehicles/drivers, a cellphone tossed out a window, an old love, jail, and an campfire-lit trip on the hipster psychedelic ayahuasca.
So, no big surprises and at least one too many plot contrivances and at least one too few reasons to believe in the resolution. Irons and Huston make it work. Irons is clearly overjoyed to have a chance to break out of Serious Actor mode and perhaps have some fun at the expense of some of the master thespians he has had the chance to observe. He makes the most of the silly scarves, the cluelessly self-involved constant stream of free-association, and the endless series of hilarious fake movie titles for Atticus’ resume, from “Throwdown at Bitch River” to “Cops and Slobbers.” And Huston is marvelous in what could have been a thankless straight man role. I counted at least a dozen different ways of looking exasperated. His reaction to the ayahuasca is funny and very specific to the character. Mamie Gummer and Schwartz make the best of small roles, and Huston and Irons remind us why all these reconciliation road trips are worth taking.
Parents should know that this film includes extremely strong and crude language, substance abuse, psychedelic drugs, smoking, drinking, very explicit sexual references, medical issues, and tense family confrontations.
Family discussion: Why was the car meaningful to Adam? Why did Adam and his sister have different responses to their father?
If you like this, try: “Kodachrome” and “Boundaries”
Originally published at moviemom.com.