Film Review: The Bachelors

The story is simple—how a father and teenage son cope with the sudden loss of their wife and mother—and the acting is brilliant, but the pace and style of 'The Bachelors' may be too depressing to appeal to the Instagram set.
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The emotional heavy-going starts with the very first scene—when a bathrobe-wearing Bill (J.K. Simmons) shuffles into the darkened bedroom where his son Wes (Josh Wiggins) is trying to sleep, and he glumly announces, “I can’t stay here anymore.”

The next we see of Bill and Wes, they are in a blue convertible cruising along the coastal highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles to start a new life. Then, in the next few seconds of screen time, Bill buys a house, enrolls Wes in a private boys’ school (jackets and ties required) and, thanks to his old friend Paul (Kevin Dunn), the school’s headmaster, he gets a job there teaching math.

After this rather fast-paced exposition, The Bachelors slows down a bit to introduce its female leads, Carine (Julie Delpy), a French professor at the school, and one of her visiting female students, a troubled teen named Lacy (Odeya Rush). These two will eventually pair up, age-appropriately, with Bill and Wes and, unsurprisingly, both couples will experience relationship problems of the guy-meets-girl, guy-loses-girl variety.  

Actually, The Bachelors doesn’t feel as trite as this plot summary indicates, for writer-director Kurt Voelker has quite skillfully skirted around the story’s most obvious clichés, and his actors, especially Simmons and Wiggins, are really, really good at truthfully portraying that most powerful of human emotions—the gut-wrenching grief of losing a loved one.  

Simmons’ character Bill is so paralyzed with shock over the sudden loss of his wife—who died of cancer only two months after being diagnosed—he has essentially become a dead man walking, functioning on only the most basic level. Obviously, the actor had to shed the sly humor he’s known for (as in the Farmers Insurance ads) in order to make believable this hollowed-out man who feels nothing and cares about nothing—until, that is, he gets to that breakthrough moment in which he feels everything.

Life is also miserable for Wes, of course, but because he’s only 17, he has the resiliency of youth as well as the hope he’ll one day find a soul mate to call his own. But grief does leave its mark on him: He shows more empathy than his peers, but he also has less tolerance for their nonsensical hijinks. He even finds himself losing patience with his dad, Bill, who’s taking a very long time to emerge from his catatonic state—even with a combination of meds, shock therapy and talk sessions with a psychiatrist (Harold Perrineau), In fact, Bill doesn’t totally clear the emotional thickets until his son brutally confronts him.

In some ways, Delpy and Dunn have the film’s most difficult roles, for they’re both uncommonly wise and good. Delpy’s character is also uncommonly kind and patient, and she always does just the right thing. For example, she intuitively picks Wes (who’s fluent in French, thanks to his late mother, a Francophile) to tutor Lacy, a smart girl who’s deliberately falling behind in school because, as it turns out, she’s trying to punish her parents for the constant turmoil in their badly broken home. Lacy also finds a way to physically punish herself, and here again, it’s Wes who comes to her rescue.

Yes, The Bachelors is predictable, but it’s also honest, because it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than the kind of movie that used to be called an “after-school special.” That is, it’s made for TV and/or streaming with the aim of assuring troubled young people that life’s rough patches will eventually get smoothed out. But we can also hope that The Bachelors serves another function as well: to further the careers of its two exceptional young performers—Wiggins and Rush—and perhaps prepare them to tackle bigger, better and more timely acting challenges in the future.

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