My mum and I used to joke that we were just like the Gilmore Girls. We would watch the show every week and boasted that we were best friends, just like Rory and Lorelai. Even though, in reality, we were really nothing like the quick-bantering, close-in-age Gilmores—seriously, they were way more open with each other than I can ever fathom being with my mum—we related to the idea of a mother-daughter team against the world. And whether it was Mamma Mia, Stepmom, Freaky Friday or even The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, there was no shortage of stories to remind us that the bond that we shared as mother and daughter was special.
But, a few years later, when my mum passed away from cancer, it was my dad—the guy who would quietly be doing dishes while mum and I were on the couch watching GG—who became my co-star, and tbh, neither of us really knew how to fill those roles for each other.
Filmmaker Lauren Miller Rogen had a similar experience when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Growing up, Miller Rogen’s dad had nicknames for her like “bunny” and babe” (my dad opted for “Tiger Lily” and “princess”). No matter her age, she was her dad’s little girl—until her mother’s illness forced their relationship to mature.
“When I was younger, [my dad] was the fun one and he was the one who said you can be whatever you want to be and should can do whatever you want to do, do what makes you happy… But when my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about 12 years ago, it rocked our family and still rocks us to this day,” says Miller Rogen. “It certainly changed things and made my relationship with my dad change dramatically, in like, I was an adult to him and needed to be an adult in certain situations and have needed to take care of him instead of have him take care of me.”
That complicated, frequently awkward journey of redefining a father-daughter relationship as adult humans is what Miller Rogen, who is married to actor Seth Rogen, brought to life in her new movie Like Father. The feature-length Netflix film, which was released on August 3, tells the story of career-driven Rachel (Kristen Bell) reconnecting with her estranged father, Harry (Kelsey Grammer), after she’s left at the altar.
Throughout this lighthearted comedy, there are small moments of real-life struggle as a father and daughter attempt to find their way back to each other. And those scenes felt intensely familiar.
After my mum died, my dad and I did a bus tour through Spain together in order to figure out how to be a family of two. I was reminded of our journey when I watched Rachel and Harry constantly get mistaken for a couple, something that still happens all too frequently to me and my dad. The cruise passengers that become catalysts for Rachel and Harry’s healing felt so similar to the wonderful group of retirees on our bus trip that helped me and my dad navigate our grief and start living again. And, without spoiling it, the finale of the film—albeit somewhat contrived—really made me want to call Poppa Nath.
Watching Like Father, I realized these are moments that I haven’t seen often on screen. While we’ve been treated to many a film and TV show about mothers and their daughters, 37-year-old Miller Rogen says that there haven’t been enough narratives about fathers and daughters as adults.
“You know I don’t know why there hasn’t been a big focus of storytelling in the past because in one way or another, every woman has a father, whether she knows him or not or whatever. So it’s obviously a relationship that is ripe for storytelling,” she says.
And that is exactly what Miller Rogen is aiming to do with this film—pushing past the cliché ‘daddy’s little girl’ narrative and exploring the unique relationship that fathers and daughters can have as adults.
“As you get older, you start to see your parents as people… I have certainly had judgement about [my dad] and the way he handles things and he has judgement about me,” she says, explaining that their level of honesty with each other has changed and evolved over time to get to where they are now. “It is a full relationship.”
With that relationship in mind, I may just have to watch Like Father with my dad.
With files from Sarah Trumbley