Writer-director Azazel Jacobs has made a couple of indie pictures I really loved. French Exit gave Michelle Pfeiffer one of her meatiest roles in years and she ran with it in a delicious Paris-set tale. He also provided Debra Winger and Tracy Letts with terrific roles in the sophisticated The Lovers. And now Jacobs shows once again he knows how to attract top actors with well-written characters in the intimate drama His Three Daughters, which stars Carrie Coon, Elizabeth Olsen and Natasha Lyonne.
The trio play sisters gathering in the New York City apartment where their father (Jay O. Sanders) is down the hall (unseen for most of the film) and near death. Jacobs purposely wants the confined atmosphere to let the dialogue rise to the top. They have arrived to spend his final days with him, but also to renew their own dysfunctional dynamic. In what could easily have been a play rather than a film, His Three Daughters feels a bit too stagey for its own good.
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The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival today and is looking for distribution. With its starry trio it should find a willing buyer. Ironically it is competing for attention with another film here about three sisters reuniting. That’s debuting director-star Kristin Scott Thomas’ wonderful, much brighter and more cinematic comedy North Star. The characters in that one have a reunion at their mother’s latest wedding, a happier occasion than the downbeat reason the three women in His Three Daughters are back together.
Coon is the organizer, a mother who likes to tie up all loose ends and keep things in order. Olsen is also a mother. She’s the daughter who seems to want to reconnect with dear old dad on a deeper level and has her own issues with her siblings. Lyonne is the outcast, a half sister who still lives in the apartment with Dad, smokes weed and seems as much as home with the street characters outside as she does with her interloping sisters.
We learn much about their lives, their weaknesses, their fractured relationships with family and each other as Jacobs exploits the dynamic between them. Until the final act we don’t even see the father, although his presence is felt throughout. When he finally emerges it is really up to the audience to decide if this is all just illusion, a fantasy, or the siblings’ final moment with a parental figure.
What makes this worthwhile, if not as engaging of the other aforementioned works of Jacobs, are the performances of three superb actors who get to sink their teeth into dialogue-heavy roles, each emerging with a distinct and recognizable character. Lyonne perhaps gets the most intriguing role, the one that feels most lived-in, and as is often the case with this fascinating performer, the one we will remember the most. But all get their moments, as does Jovan Adepo appearing more briefly as a friend. Sanders pays off with limited screen time to present a man we have only heard about for most of the running time, but now see vividly coming alive.
For the filmmaker this very personal movie comes as a bookend to an early film he made 15 years ago, Momma’s Man, which actually starred his aging parents and also dealt directly with the chasm between child and parent, and dealing with all the vagaries that come with grown children now in a reverse position of taking care of their elders.
Producers are Jacobs, Alex Orlovsky, Duncan Montgomery, Matt Aselton, Marc Marrie, Mal Ward, Lia Buman, Tim Headington, Jack Selby and Diaz Jacobs.
Title: His Three Daughters
Festival: Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations)
Director-screenwriter: Azazel Jacobs
Cast: Carrie Coon, Elizabeth Olsen, Natasha Lyonne, Jay O. Sanders, Jovan Adepo
Running time: 1 hr 41 min
Sales agent: CAA
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