The Confirmation

The Confirmation [2016] is long-time writer, first-time director, Bob Nelson’s first feature narrative film of which he both wrote and directed. Nelson is probably better known, in recent memory, for penning the screenplay of the Oscar-nominated film Nebraska [2013]. His current film is of similar pedigree as Nebraska in that it is also a comedic drama that centers on a father and a son. The son in this story is eight-year-old Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher). His mom (Maria Bello) and stepdad have scheduled a weekend trip away. For the duration of this weekend, Anthony is to stay with his slightly estranged father, Walt (Clive Owen), who is on an uphill journey against the reciprocally related issues of alcoholism and unemployment.

A Tale of Redemption… Nelson’s film is an exploration of worship and idolatry both in religion and in the father-son relationship. The namesake of this film does refer to one of the seven sacraments in Roman Catholicism and one of the challenges that Anthony faces is a matter of reconciling with religion and its idiosyncrasies. In this aspect of the film, for some comic relief, master character actor Stephen Tobolowsky makes his limited screen time count for maximal effect as the sarcastic Father Lyons.Yet, it should be no surprise that the real Confirmation is never quite as literal and for all the religious imagery served up in the opening sequence of the film, this story has little to do with religion at all. Anthony and Walt will spend the weekend stumbling in and out of familiar rhythms while hoping for different results. The two are also thrown, begrudgingly, into an impromptu adventure and in this journey, Nelson uses Walt and Anthony to navigate the elusive but innate bond between fathers and sons. There is no question that Anthony idolizes Walt; yet, he is old enough to understand that Walt is imperfect; and in this discord, Nelson touches upon something fundamentally human.

‘Murica-ish… This is a nostalgic film that seems to long, almost mourn, for the past glory of a different, better America. Walt feels more emblem than character, who’s standing in place for an America that has seen better days: a time when men were men and that meant they built things with their hands and built things well. Becoming a man meant knowing the difference between a casing nail and a clout nail and when it’s appropriate to use one over the other. In other words, men were Ron Swanson. And in this sense, The Confirmation evokes a sense of lost legacies. Collective legacies. When America had a thriving middle class and work was hard but honest. Part and parcel with this is the frankness to which Nelson captures the malaise and creeping depression of American suburbia filled with big-box stores and their miles of parking lots and streets lined with kitschy signs for rundown businesses. It’s a bit old-world, but it’s also undeniable that this is a reality for a lot of Americans. And yet, despite that, The Confirmation also feels quite niche in its worldview and will likely only resonate with some viewers.

Nice Guys Don’t Always Finish Last… Nelson has also assembled a fine cast for his directorial debut. Everyone evokes the understated and well-meaning nature of suburban folk; and it’s these characters that bring to life the gentle humor typical of plainspoken, blue collar America. Yet, for all that Nelson does well, this story is so gentle it borders on sleepy and it’s the kind of film that leaves me wondering what is it that compels one to tell this story. For a story with the potential to be both profound and humorous (or, at least, one of those), it’s never quite as profound or humorous as it should be. So what, in the end, does The Confirmation achieve? It’s nice. Just like suburban folks. Just like Anthony. And as far as sins go, there are worse.

A father and son face off with life together.