By John DeFore
A rapper embraces the father who abandoned him.
An abandoned son follows an impulse many in his shoes must consider in In My Father's House, tracking down the father he hardly knew in search of some kind of explanation. Approaching the encounter with an open heart, rapper Che "Rhymefest" Smith avoids accusations and soon finds himself in a challenging but rewarding relationship with the man, a homeless alcoholic; similarly, directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg avoid the shallow familiarity of docs that follow entertainers who've overcome hardship as they stroll down Memory Lane. The result is a film whose exploration of responsibility and addiction will interest viewers who've never heard of Smith, though his credits as co-writer of the Oscar-winning song "Glory" and the Kanye West single "Jesus Walks" should help it attract attention.
Having enjoyed some success early in his career only to spend most of the money he made, Smith is a maturity-minded family man by the time we meet him, intent on giving his teenage son, Solomon, the stable family he missed out on. He moves into the Chicago house he grew up in and, after musing on the memories contained there, decides to hunt down the dad he hasn't seen since he was 12. The very next day, he and Brian Tillman are meeting in a public library. (Press notes reveal that Smith filmed this on his own, before getting Sundberg and Stern interested in his story.) That meeting goes well enough that a forgiving-but-wary Smith is soon inviting Tillman to dinner at his home, setting him up in a rehab-focused homeless shelter, and providing moral support.
As we watch the older man's surprisingly quick embrace of sober life and the predictable obstacles he faces, Smith acknowledges his "selfish" youth as a womanizer, a period during which he repeated some of his father's sins. He's delinquent in child-support payments to a former girlfriend, and years after the fact he insists on a DNA test. Even after paternity is established, the filmmakers don't push Smith to say "I'm her father" on camera, an odd note in a film so focused on responsibility and the pain of growing up fatherless. Repairing a family is slow work, to be sure, and In My Father's House shows the process continuing through some major setbacks.
Production company: Break Thru Films
Directors-Producers: Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg
Screenwriters: Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg, Pax Wassermann
Director of photography: Charles Miller
Editors: Pax Wasserman, Tim K. Smith
Music: Paul Brill
Sales: John Sloss/Linzee Troubh, Cinetic
No rating, 92 minutes