Yes, the title “My Dad’s Christmas Date” gives away the movie. But who do you think of when you hear this line?
“My Dad spends Monday nights in church.”
How about NOT Jeremy Piven?
The former Cusack sidekick and second act “Entourage” tyro, who has found a third career boost working in Britain, is cast-against-type as a sad widower living in scenic York with his rebellious but “helpful” 16 year-old daughter, played by Brit TV starlet (“Penny on M.A.R.S.”) Olivia-Mai Barrett.
So our search for the rare diamonds among the annual onslaught of “holiday” movie fare has brought us here, to another movie enabled by a grant from the UK’s Hire a Hack Trust, Mick Davis.
I was blissfully unaware of the director Davis ouevre of awful until that steaming pile of “Father Christmas is Back” popped up on my Netflix queue. And here we are again and here I go again — apologies for picking on this poor fellow, but hapless he is and his movies show it.
“My Dad’s Christmas Date” is a downbeat, laugh-free dip into holiday season grief, a movie with a whiff of charm but nary a giggle. It features a couple of jarring, out-of-left-field/out-of-character bursts of rudeness and Piven doing his damnedest to make his pretty but largely inexpressive co-star into Daddy’s Little Darling.
But at least we get a trip to Yorkshire during the holidays in the bargain, so there’s that.
Barrett is Jules, a private school kid who misses her mum, but does this in a most-English way — in private, in secret. Her American Dad David (Piven) only breaks a smile when he imagines his late wife (Megan Brown) is still with them. Because she isn’t.
Whatever Jules is going through — she’s hair-trigger testy with Dad — her BFF at school Emma (Hadar Cats) is more concerned with what’s going on with her “still fit” father.
“So, what are you gonna do about your Dad?”
The plan? Sign him up on matchmaking sites, put him “out there” again. Only Jules doesn’t let her father in on her scheme. Instead, she writes his online dating profile and arranges meet-ups with women posing as her father online. And she’s inviting him with her to museums, receptions, street dances and the like, where “random women” come up and start talking to him like they’re old friends, prospective lovers and what not.
That’s a set-up rich with tried-but-true comic possibilities. A cute moment or two is all it produces, such as the way Jules stage-manages her father’s meet-ups. She’s “washed” all his clothes, save for the outfit she’s picked out for him to wear.
Dad? He’s got one confidante, Sarah, an ex-girlfriend going through a divorce played by Joely Richardson. Their scenes have a comic crackle to them that nothing else in “My Dad’s Christmas Date” can manage.
Sarah is sanguine about the ways of teenage girls. Jules is 16? “At this stage, she’s closer to ‘The Incredible Hulk’ than Bruce Banner.
Jules, meanwhile, is crying by herself and struggling with her first beau. As confidantes go, Emma’s 16 and pretty much useless.
“My Dad’s Christmas Date” spends an inordinate amount of screen time watching Jules apply her perfect makeup and bury her emotions.
Piven struggles to deliver something lighter, and only succeeds a couple of times — once leaping out of character at the sound of a bagpiper, another at a Dickens-themed street dance, where David throws himself into this Fezziwig’s party-scene out of “A Christmas Carol,” clueless about the attractive stranger who thinks she’s there to meet him for a date.
Three screenwriters and a director with a record unblemished by “success” can’t make this “Date” come off. In a movie with plenty of “You Americans” jokes, it’s the Yank who holds his own and the Limeys who let down the side.
Rating: TV-MA, sexual situations, near-profanity
Cast: Jeremy Piven, Olivia-Mai Barrett, Hadar Cats and Joely Richardson.
Credits: Directed by Mick Davis, scripted by Toby Torlesse, Brian Marchetti and Jack Marchetti. An Amazon production, on Netflix.
Running time: 1:31