Normally when a film languishes in limbo for three years and then only receives a blink-and-you'll-miss it theatrical release, there's something very wrong with it.

Daddy And Them, Billy Bob Thornton's follow-up to the well-received Sling Blade, is an exception. While treading much the same ground as its predecessor, albeit with a lighter, more comic tone, the quality of the writing and performances is such to make one wonder what studio politicking went on at Miramax.

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The film centres on Claude Montgomery, played by Thornton himself. He's married to a younger woman, Ruby, who suspects that he is having an affair with her older sister, Rose. Claude, meanwhile, obsesses over his physique, worrying that Ruby will leave him for some six-packed body-builder type, if he doesn't stay in top condition.

The last thing the couple's relationship needs is a long weekend with their respective in-laws and siblings. But that's exactly what happens when Claude's Uncle Hazel is arrested for armed robbery.

Their folks mean well, of course, but being dysfunctional, borderline alcholic rednecks are liable to do more harm than good...

Thornton's writing is well-observed, creating characters who, while embodying all the usual white trash traits - foul-mouths, lacking in culture and social graces - have a three-dimensional quality to them. You sense his ambiguity towards these people and that, from One False Move on, he has constantly been wrestling, as performer, writer and director, over how to honestly represent the redneck (originally a neutral term, but one that has generally developed strong negative connotations subsequently) in a Hollywood that rarely looks beyond ethnic and cultural stereotypes.

As director his approach is simple and unobtrusive, letting the fine dialogue and performances carry the film. With good to excellent acting all round, it's hard to single anyone out, be it Thornton himself, Laura Dern or (her real-life mother) Diane Ladd as his wife and mother-in-law, Andy Griffith as the head of the Montgomery clan or Brenda Blethyn as the English outsider who has married into the family and now wonders what she has let herself in for. If one had to choose, it would have to be the late Jim Varney, who steals the show as Uncle Hazel.

While, perhaps, a little too slow for its own good, at times - you can imagine the Jack Daniels man doing a "things are leisurely here" voiceover - Daddy And Them is an acutely observed and entertaining slice-of-life drama that has enough of that good ol' boy charm to win through in the end.

Reviewed on: 30 Apr 2003
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A couple travel to their hometown after their uncle is arrested.
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Director: Billy Bob Thornton

Writer: Billy Bob Thornton

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, Andy Griffith, Jim Varney, Brenda Blethyn, John Prine, Ben Affleck, Jamie Lee Curtis

Year: 2001

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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