Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
They say that if something exists, there’s pornography about it. I suspect it’s also true that if you see a flamboyantly terrible movie that’s not entirely obscure, there’s probably a podcast about it. Podcasts have done wonderful things for the bad moviesphere, just as the bad moviesphere has done wonderful things for podcasts like The Flop House and How Did This Get Made? So when I finally satiated my long-simmering curiosity about the famously misconceived 1994 incest-and-molestation-themed wacky Touchstone comedy My Father the Hero for the “Control Nathan Rabin” column at my website Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, I was relieved, if not entirely surprised, to discover that it had been covered by the wonderful terrible movie podcast We Hate Movies.
I wanted to listen to an episode about My Father the Hero because even after I finished watching and writing about it, I still couldn’t entirely shake my vague suspicion that a movie that screamingly, unforgivably wrong couldn’t actually exist, and I consequently must have hallucinated it. So one of the nice things about listening to the My Father the Hero episode of We Hate Movies was receiving extensive confirmation that the movie both exists and is every bit as unintentionally disturbing as I remember it. The gents of We Hate Movies describe the movie, without hyperbole, as “fantastically creepy.” They then proceed to unpack the layers of that fantastical creepiness.
My Father the Hero is like a Russian nesting doll of wrongness. It’s one criminally-off idea nestled inside another, beginning with the epic miscasting of sausage-fingered heavyweight actor Gerard Depardieu as a rascally single dad and a precociously insufferable Katherine Heigl as his 14-year-old daughter (fourteen!), who the podcast accurately deems both “trash” and a “sociopath” and unusually unlikable even for a character played by Katherine Heigl.
Heigl’s character, you see, wants to impress some garbagey teenaged dude at the romantic vacation resort Depardieu takes her to, so she pretends that her father is actually her brutish, much-older lover. This leads to the entire resort thinking that Depardieu is enjoying a vigorous sex life with a woman who looks like his 14-year-old daughter because she is his 14-year-old-daughter. Making things much worse: while we constantly have balding 34-year-olds play high school-age characters (on Beverly Hills 90210, of course, but elsewhere too), My Father the Hero aimed unwisely for realism and verisimilitude and cast an actress roughly the same age (that is, way too young!) as the 14-year-old she’s playing. This leads, among other hijinks, to Depardieu mortifying a crowd convinced he’s at worst a pedophile and at best a man with a sexual hunger for very young girls with a rousing, repellent cover of Jacques Brel’s “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” which, mortifyingly enough, provokes riotous laughter, albeit of the unintentional variety.
Everything about the ill-fated 1994 comedy is wrong on both a micro and a macro level. As a subject for podcast comedy, it’s a gift that keeps on giving, a movie that begins on a spectacularly off note and just keeps veering further and further off course. We Hate Movies gets a lot out of the movie itself, but some of the podcast’s funniest and most memorable moments are digressions involving a comedy roast of King Kong and a proposed vehicle for Ray Winstone and Gerard Depardieu called Fat Spies.
I spent much of My Father the Hero mentally admonishing star Katherine Heigl to cover up and not promenade in public in a thong as a 14-year-old. Fourteen! Where were her parents? Oh, won’t someone think of the children, even if the child in question is a disturbingly over-sexualized, jailbait Katherine Heigl? So it was reassuring to know that I’m not the only one appalled by what the podcast refers to as the “thong scene” and its repugnant over-sexualization of an actress who was, at the time of the movie’s filming, essentially a child. That’s why My Father the Hero is the rare film that can be found in both the “light vacation comedies” and “softcore child porn” section alongside Blame It on Rio, which the discriminating gents here deem the “nuclear bomb of child-fucking movies.”
My Father the Hero can really only be understood as a French export. Indeed, Depardieu had starred in a French-language version of this same story three years earlier. But where French audiences proved sophisticated enough to chuckle at comical misunderstandings involving a 14-year-old girl pretending her father is actually her lover, stateside audiences looked askance at consuming light entertainment rooted in gags about pedophilia and incest.
Well, most Americans looked askance at My Father the Hero and its peculiar brand of “family” comedy. Donald Trump has reportedly hailed My Father the Hero as “the feel-good family comedy of the millennium,” a “movie every doting daughter should see with her dad, preferably while seated in his lap,” and, finally the “perfect conclusion to a daddy-daughter-dance date.”
I’m not saying that My Father the Hero is disturbing and inappropriate but after it was released the ghost of Serge Gainsbourg wrote an op-ed taking it to task for going too far.
We Hate Movies’ deconstruction of My Father the Hero captures how it is accidentally an exercise in body horror, only in this instance we’re not dealing with Cronenbergian nightmares involving exploding heads or monstrous mutations of man and house fly, but rather Depardieu’s hypnotically enormous, frequently displayed belly and Heigl’s horrifyingly inappropriate displays of unclothed skin.
We Hate Movies doesn’t just capture the accidental horror and pervasive, perverse wrongness of My Father the Hero: they make it funny. There are big laughs to be gleaned at the movie’s expense, even if the movie itself is less “funny ha” or “funny strange” than “unfunny unspeakably inappropriate.”
Nathan Rabin is a father, the author of 5 books, a columnist and the proprietor, owner, Editor-in-Chief and sole writer for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, which can be found at nathanrabin.com.