Lauren Miller Rogen had big plans in 2012. Her first feature, “For a Good Time, Call…,” written alongside her college roommate Katie Anne Naylon and loosely based on the pair’s own adventures, debuted at Sundance and was subsequently bought by Focus Features for a summer release, establishing her as a major talent to watch. She was ready to move onto the next stage of her career and direct a feature.
Then, life got in the way: Her mother had just been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and the disease was advanced enough that Miller Rogen and her husband, fellow actor and filmmaker Seth Rogen, moved her parents to Los Angeles to be closer. Two weeks later, Miller Rogen left for the press tour for “For a Good Time, Call…” It was an understandably “emotional time” for her, she said in a recent interview. The experience provided an emotional foundation for what would eventually become her directorial debut, “Like Father.”
The Netflix dramedy is, at its heart, a family story. Kristen Bell stars as Rachel, a workaholic whose wedding is suddenly called off by her fed-up fiance, a bad situation made worse by the sudden appearance of her estranged father Harry (Kelsey Grammar). Drunk on booze and heartbreak, the pair decide to head off on Rachel’s honeymoon cruise together, perhaps to get a chance at becoming the family they were never able to be before.
The filmmaker first started working on the script for “Like Father” right after “For a Good Time, Call…” was released in the summer of 2012, though it ultimately took her two years and “close to 17 drafts” before she was able to get it into filmable shape. “I write what I know a lot,” Miller Rogen said. “The anger, the acceptance, the rejection of reality. It just sort of crept in there. …I needed to deal with my emotions and was just working really slowly because I had so much going on in my life.”
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In 2012, the Rogens also founded Hilarity for Charity, an organization that is “dedicated to raising awareness, inspiring change, and accelerating progress in Alzheimer’s care, research, and support through the engagement of millennials.” The charity provides grant money for families impacted by Alzheimer’s, hosts annual variety shows to raise money, and helps universities and colleges stage their own events to help combat the disease. (In 2014, Rogen spoke to members of Congress about his mother-in-law’s struggles with the disease.)
While “Like Father” is not explicitly about a family dealing with Alzheimer’s, its impact is baked into a key subplot. “I’m a big believer in incorporating things that you want to become part of this sort of conversation into storytelling,” she said. “I think that things like cancer, HIV, and AIDS have been normalized because of being in movies and television so much, and I think that Alzheimer’s needs to become part of the normal conversation of diseases that we are actively fighting against every single day.”
Despite some heavy themes, Miller Rogen’s background in comedy shines through in the film. She said “Like Father” was inspired by a mishmash of some of her favorite films, from her personal childhood pick “Grumpy Old Men” (a movie she admits she was strangely obsessed with as a kid) to comedies like “When Harry Met Sally” and “A League of Their Own” and dramedies like “Parenthood” (another long-time favorite) and Nicole Holofcener’s films.
It’s telling that Miller Rogen pointed directly to a filmmaker like Holofcener, who also often directs her own material and has spent many years in the industry hustling to do so. Miller Rogen went to film school at Florida State, and when it came time to make the post-graduation move to Hollywood, she outlined a plan that seemed like a good way to “learn about the industry and pay my dues and get my feet wet.” That meant nabbing a job, assisting a producer, not just showing up and expecting to be some kind of instant sensation.
Two weeks after graduation, Miller Rogen and a bunch of her friends caravaned out to Los Angeles to start their careers. Within two weeks of moving, she had landed internships at two different production companies. Within three months, she was assisting Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis’ producing partner. In her downtime, she wrote a script, got an agent, and ultimately decided to quit assisting after three years (only after, she hastened, saving up a lot of money). “I was like, ‘You know what I’m ready to do? Not be an assistant and be a writer,'” she remembered.
It took another decade for her to increase that ambition even further in preparation for her directorial debut. It was only after Miller Rogen and her producers sent the script to a handful of other female directors that people began to question why she wasn’t the one helming it. Miller Rogen remembered that when producer Anders Bard asked her straight out if she wanted to direct the film, she finally felt free to offer up an honest answer: “I was like, ‘Yes, I wanna direct it.’ And in that moment we were like, ‘Okay, great, you’re directing it,’ and never looked back from there.”
“Like Father” will be available to stream on Netflix on Friday, August 3.