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Daddy and Them (January 31/04)

Daddy and Them is one of the more infamous examples of a film indefinitely shelved by Miramax, as it was slated to open around three years ago. But unlike Buffalo Soldiers - another Miramax flick that just recently resurfaced - there's nothing politically sensitive in Daddy and Them, so logic suggests that it must have been delayed because it sucks. And though there's nothing especially groundbreaking or even above-average about the movie, it's made worthwhile because of the performances and Billy Bob Thornton's likeable screenplay.

Thornton stars as Claude, a good ol' boy from Arkansas who's dating Ruby (Laura Dern). Claude used to go out with Ruby's sister, Rose (Kelly Preston), a coupling that continues to irk Ruby. When Claude's uncle Hazel (Jim Varney) is arrested for attempted murder, his family comes together to support their incarcerated kin. The cast also includes Andy Griffith as Claude's father, Brenda Blethyn as Hazel's wife, and Diane Ladd as Ruby's mother (she's Dern's mother in real life, too).

Admittedly, Daddy and Them gets off to a less-than-stellar start. Thornton (who also directed) has populated the film with an assortment of seemingly unpleasant characters, who seem to spend the majority of their time fighting with one another. And since there's not much of a plot to speak of, it's the characters that are meant to propel the story forward. But as the movie progresses, the characters begin to develop into more than just hillbilly caricatures and finally become endearing.

Though Daddy and Them doesn't even begin to approach Thornton's first effort as a director, Sling Blade, in terms of quality, the film is nevertheless a big step up from All the Pretty Horses (his second movie). The almost free-wheeling pace takes a while to get used to, but it works. With such a talented ensemble of actors and Thornton's distinct ability in writing snappy dialogue, the film finally arrives at a place where we're enjoying the company of these quirky characters.

As for Thornton the actor, he's just as charming and charismatic as ever. Though it doesn't appear that Claude is too far a stretch for him, he nevertheless imbues the character with a distinct sense of decency that ensures we'll root for him even when he's doing some decidedly redneck things (his epic trip to the liquor store stands out). Though Dern's Ruby often threatens to become an irritatingly shrill harpy, the actress does a nice job of staying just this side of over-the-top. Finally, Ben Affleck and Jamie Lee Curtis provide hilarious cameos as a pair of inept lawyers.

Daddy and Them is one of those movies that works best on a lazy Sunday afternoon, with fairly low expectations. And besides, how many other opportunities are you going to get to hear Andy Griffith use a particularly nasty euphemism for prison rape?

out of

About the DVD: Buena Vista Home Entertainment presents Daddy and Them with a sharp letterboxed transfer, along with a few extras. The most notable bonus feature is a superb commentary track with Thornton and producers Bruce Heller and Robert Salerno. This laid-back track is entertaining from start to finish, and is one of those rare commentaries in which you really feel as though you've spent time with these guys. The disc also includes a four-minute featurette on the making of the movie, five deleted scenes, and The Return of Karl - which marks Thornton's return as Karl Childers, a homicidal simpleton from Sling Blade. This really does have to be seen to be believed.
© David Nusair