Based on the popular stage play of the same title, "Da" is writer Hugh Leonard's poignant autobiographical story of a man coming to terms with the uneasy relationship he's had all his life with his adoptive father.
The catharsis for this purging of demons is his father's death.Barnard Hughes is the title character, an irascible, henpecked Irishman who has never been out of his native country, yet thinks he knows all there is to know about places abroad, and whose adamant nature, linked with an easygoing ability to overlook anything unpleasant, drives his son Charlie (Martin Sheen) to distraction.
Even in death.
Charlie is a successful New York playwright about to have another show open when he receives the news that his father has passed away in Ireland. Charlie immediately packs up his wife and young daughter and heads for his homeland.
Once there, as he pores through his Da's possessions and goes through the house where he grew up, Charlie begins to remember specific incidents from his life with his father, and Da returns in his mind as they travel those memories together.
Some of the memories are pleasant, but more often they show up Charlie's inability to accept his parents for what they are and his father's inability to see beyond his nose - or so it seems.
Da drives Charlie crazy, and they literally stroll together through each significant moment of their past together. It is an obvious theatrical device, having the adult Charlie and the youthful Charlie in scenes together, arguing with the deceased Da. And having Da appear to Charlie throughout - even speaking to him from the coffin as pallbearers carry him to the grave.
But it works in the context of this play . . . uh, movie. And directed with spare theatrics by Matt Clark, yet with nice use of the Irish locales where the movie was shot, "Da" is quite a touching experience.
"Da" is given an extra boost, however, by the performances. Sheen is quite good as Charlie, as is Karl Hayden as his youthful alter ego, William Hickey as his eccentric first employer and Doreen Hepburn as Charlie's mother.
But it is Barnard Hughes' reprisal of his Tony award-winning role that makes this movie a special treat indeed. He is magnificent, blustering and crotchety, yet with a beneath-the-surface warmth that is genuine, and a love he doesn't know how to show, yet very obviously feels for his son.
There are some wonderful pieces of dialogue here, and Leonard's obvious affection for the story is evident. Though "Da" is unrated, it would doubtless receive a PG for a few profanities and a couple of vulgarities.