Kurt Voelker’s “The Bachelors” opens with a father walking into his son’s bedroom in the middle of the night. He sits on the edge of the bed and says to his groggy son “I can’t stay here anymore.” Even without context this simple line of dialogue packs the emotional heft that is threaded throughout this entire film.
“The Bachelors” is a movie about grief which is nothing spectacular or especially new. But Voelker (who both wrote and directed the picture) does something many of these explorations miss. He never loses sight of the human element or the importance of conveying truth in every relationship. Whether he’s juggling drama or comedy, his characters and their emotions always feel genuine.
The father is Bill (J.K. Simmons) who recently lost his wife to cancer after 33 years of marriage. It’s an extraordinary performance by Simmons who maintains a steady heartbreaking tenderness. It’s not nearly as flamboyant or showy as his Oscar-winning performance in “Whiplash” but just as impressive in a much more measured way.
Bill packs up and moves with his son Wes (Josh Wiggins) to southern California where he hopes a change of scenery will do him good. Wes is equally sympathetic as a teenager who not only loses his mother but also his father to a worsening state of depression. On top of that he’s forced to move to a new town and a new school with new friends. There is an almost natural shyness to Wiggins that comes through in his acting. We saw in “Walking Out” from earlier this year and now here. His understated approach is serves his character which make later scenes when his emotions boil over more effective.
The coming-of-age side of Voelker’s two-headed story has its moments. Many of them are between Wes and a beautiful but troubled wild-child named Lacy. She’s portrayed by Odeya Rush who played a similar role in Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird”. The two are designated homework partners which allows their unconventional relationship to take form. Wes’ time with his two new outsider friends is a little more hit-or-miss. Some of their banter is funny but other times seems too contrived for the moment.
The other side of Voelker’s story consistently surprised me especially in how deep it was willing to dive into the area of depression. I wasn’t expecting it. There are no soft perspectives or dulled edges. Simmons doesn’t ‘go big’ to add a dominating dramatic effect to the issue. His performance is mannered yet emotionally rich and always believable. There are some wonderful and revealing scenes between Simmons and Harold Perrineau who plays his therapist. And also with Julie Delpy who plays a math teacher who takes an interest in Bill.
The film’s ending could be misconstrued as too tidy, but I was never left with that impression. I think the struggles still ahead of this father and son are implied but Voelker offers us hope. And we want that for these characters. We want it to work out. We want them to heal. We want all of this because Voelker does such a good job making us care for them. That sympathetic and emotional connection he creates is more than enough to carry us through this delightful yet poignant story.
VERDICT – 4 STARS