Colby is gay, something his conservative father, Michael, has never properly accepted. However, Colby has now found a man he thinks might be ‘the one’ and so hatches a plan for his dad to get to know Rusty, without him realising he’s his son’s boyfriend. Colby tells his father that Rusty is his straight friend and future business partner who’s he’s invited along on their annual camping trip with them.
When it’s time to go on the trip, Colby says he can’t go at the last minute, and so Rusty and Michael head off alone. Initially it looks like they’re going to get on well, but as the men become more comfortable around one another, Rusty starts to think perhaps he can tell Michael the truth – although if he does, there’s no guarantee Michael will accept it and the repercussions might not just rip Colby’s family apart, but also his relationship with Rusty.
While Winning Dad sometimes has a tendency towards being a little too overwrought, what always holds it together is the fact it has an immense amount of empathy for its characters. That’s not just true of Rusty and Colby, but also of Michael, who the film never agrees with, but who is never shown as an out and out villain. Instead he’s a man struggling against ingrained attitudes that he doesn’t know how to change. It certainly helps on that score that actor/comedian Chuck Sigars puts in a very good performance in his first film role.
There is a pivotal moment halfway through the movie where it feels like the whole thing might fall apart, partly because it threatens to make pretty much everyone in the movie look like a bit of an inflexible asshole prone to taking things to the extreme. Thankfully though, it more than pulls things back, using that moment to show that everyone is capable of making mistakes, and with the right amount of humility, realisation and communication, redemption is possible – and that’s not just for people who are homophobic.
The film has its problems and a few rough edges that could have been shorn off without too much problem, and there are also plenty of people who are likely to disagree with its ideas about why Michael is so hostile to the idea of two men being together, but overall it’s a movie with charm, some decent wit and characters you want the best for (even if many of them can be complete dicks at times).
It’s also oddly nice to have a film where the lead gay guys aren’t either young twink-types or slightly older muscle-hunks. Instead it’s just a couple of regular, Middle-American guys. Indeed, it’s a movie that’s absolutely steeped in a Middle-American vibe, which comes through in everything from its tone to its cinematography. Coupled with a script that’s incredibly empathetic and occasionally incisive, it more than overcomes any minor quibbles you could lay against the movie.
If you get the chance though, it’s definitely worth watching.
Overall Verdict: Winning Dad may have a few issues, but overall it’s a charming movie, which manages to mix drama, humour and pathos, and despite occasionally heading towards overwrought melodrama, it’s empathy more than pulls it through.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac