A little Catholic boy tries to stop his dad’s downward spiral into alcohol and poverty in “The Confirmation,” a bleak but funny comedy from the screenwriter of “Nebraska.”
What writer/director Bob Nelson has dreamed up here is a “Bicycle Thieves” for the New Economy, a moving yet humorous story of an underemployed alcoholic trying to right his life, but failing until he’s stuck taking care of his eight year old son over a long weekend.
Clive Owen is impressively disconnected and disheveled as Walt, a finishing carpenter a long time between jobs, a short time between drinks. And Jaeden Lieberher is the same face of innocence he was in “St. Vincent” as Walt’s son, Anthony.
Anthony is getting ready for Confirmation, soon to take his first communion in the church his mother drags him to, several times a week, in a working class suburb of Seattle. He’s too young to have much to confess, even when his priest (Stephen Tobolowsky) prods him.
“I don’t see my dad often enough to dishonor him.”
Walt’s ex-wife (Maria Bello) has remarried and is off for a weekend with her new husband. Walt, barely sober and with so little money on hand he can barely keep home, hearth and pickup truck together, will look after Anthony.
And it’s obvious, right from the drive to Walt’s house, that Anthony will be the caregiver here. Walt leaves him in the truck while he stops off at his local bar.
Over the course of their weekend, calamities pile up as Walt is evicted, his truck fails, and the woodworking and carving tools he needs to save himself from doom are stolen. He and Anthony embark on a picaresque journey through a blue collar nightmare of unemployed barflies, living hand to mouth, many of whom Walt and the kid must confront as Walt searches for the tools for the big break job he starts on Monday.
Robert Forster plays the old family friend who might help out, Patton Oswalt is a dry-waller whose “leads” on the theft are just daft, and Tim Blake Nelson is a fellow barfly raising his sons, including one Anthony’s age, with the careless obliviousness of Every Gun Control advocate’s nightmares.
“How many times do I have to tell you boys that these guns I give you are not playthings?”
Anthony hides Walt’s booze, hides his car keys to keep him from buying booze and aches to get Dad’s permission to get out of this Confirmation jazz.
“I don’t want to take Communion, Dad. I don’t want to eat Jesus!”
Owen makes Walt nicely frayed, yet competent. He can fix things, when he’s sober.
The “comedy” here comes from the situations and confrontations, and the peripheral characters, old Otto (Forster) trying to rule out one possible thief — “But he’s a good guy now. He found Jesus.” You may never believe Oswalt is a dry-wall installer. But you’ll believe he’s a little crazy, and that he’s “back on the Meth.”
As with his “Nebraska” script, Nelson demonstrates a near-peerless grasp of working class values and despair. The problems are tiny to an outsider. But lose your toolbox, as Antonio lost the bicycle he needed to ride to work in Vittorio De Sica‘s 1948 classic, “Bicycle Thieves,” and your whole world is consumed with getting it back.
Nothing in your worth as a man and a father will make sense until you do.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for some mature thematic elements
Cast: Clive Owen, Jaeden Lieberher, Maria Bello, Robert Forster, Patton Oswalt, Matthew Modine
Credits: Written and directed by Bob Nelson. A Saban Films release.
Running time: 1:41