“Dealing With Dad,” a low-budget indie from the writer-director Tom Huang, is a surprisingly lighthearted movie about two serious subjects: generational trauma and chronic depression. It tells the story of three siblings — the high-strung workaholic Margaret (Ally Maki), the layabout comic book nerd Larry (Hayden Szeto) and the timid, recently-separated Roy (Peter S. Kim) — who must return to their family home to help care for their father (Dana Lee), disconsolate and bedridden after being laid off from his lifelong job. Though concerned for him, the kids are conflicted, having suffered at their father’s somewhat tyrannical hands growing up. The film is at its most compelling when tackling this tension between care and resentment head-on — it has a ring of truth that’s sadly squandered whenever Huang reaches for easy laughs.
The comedy isn’t spiky and tightly wound up around the darker material, as it is in, say, “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” “Heathers” or “Little Miss Sunshine.” Rather the humor is glib and fatuous, with the broad, clichéd tone of an old-fashioned network sitcom. Lame fat jokes, gags about someone being gender-fluid and outdated punch lines about “American Idol” and Tucker Max abound.
At one point, the siblings dine out at an ostensibly upscale restaurant, and there are over-the-top complaints about arugula on pizza. It wouldn’t have been funny in 2005, when fancy-food jokes were at least less stale. In a modern film about a family’s strained efforts to manage their patriarch’s mental illness, however, it demonstrates a critical misunderstanding of the material’s strengths. The family is hurting. Dumbing them down doesn’t help.
Dealing With Dad
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes. Rent or buy on most major platforms.