“Fathers and Mothers” (“Fædre og mødre”)
Screened at the Gene Siskel Film Center Chicago European Union Film Festival (4/5); Letterboxd (4/5), Imdb.com (8/10)
Ah, parents these days. They’re not what they used to be, which is unfortunate, as this scathing Danish comedy-drama aptly illustrates. Director Paprika Steen’s latest serves up a wickedly funny take on a group of upscale parents who have enrolled their children in an elite private school designed to help kids maximize their potential. Despite their seemingly good intentions, however, the parents in this story unwittingly compete with one another to be the best über-moms and dads possible, particularly when it comes to showing off their degrees of social consciousness and political correctness. In the process, they ostensibly engage in polite but toxic games of one-upsmanship with each other, posing that eventually transforms into bitter arguments that violate their so-called principles and bad behavior that makes anything their kids do look tame by comparison. Much of this plays out at a getaway country weekend for the parents and their children, where a form of unconscious role reversal takes place in which the grownups show their true colors on a variety of fronts as their more mature kids look on. Some may view all this as mean-spirited, but it’s actually spot-on when it comes to poignantly portraying the hypocrisy of those who believe that their you-know-what doesn’t stink. Given the multiple characters and story threads at work here, the film can be somewhat episodic at times, and a few of the narrative tracks don’t feel fleshed out as fully as they might have been. Nevertheless, this offering paints an authentic picture with its share of incisive dramatic moments, as well as ample biting humor that’s depicted directly, by implication and even in deftly placed visuals. When viewed in this context, it’s apparent that there’s a lot more going on here than may superficially meet the eye. There’s a great deal of insightful material tightly packed into this package, but it mostly involves things that need to be said – and, ultimately, in ways that are very much in your face. Let’s hope that those who need to get the film’s message indeed do considering what’s at stake.