Director Lucie Jourdan’s “Our Father,” a frustrating, tawdry documentary, rips a headline for trashy dramatic beats of an Indianapolis fertility doctor who inseminated an untold number of women with his sperm. The physician in question, Donald Cline, didn’t ask the women for their permission. They continued with their lives believing their child’s father was an unnamed medical student or their respective husband. Decades later, though, through the DNA test 23andMe, the now-grown children are not only discovering unknown half siblings, they’re learning that Cline is their father.
Much of the film is told through the eyes of Jacoba Ballard. Because of her blonde hair and blue eyes, in a family of brunettes, she always wondered about her origins. After using 23andMe, she found seven other half-siblings and began connecting the dots, ultimately spearheading the search for other siblings.
Deeper, darker secrets are also revealed, like how the doctor would slip away to his office to masturbate while his female patient sat desperate and vulnerable—both emotionally and physically—in an adjoining room. The story carries an inherent grotesqueness, ready-made to churn the stomach. But Jourdan uses hackneyed techniques, often undermining, and worst yet, trivializing these crimes. Throughout the documentary, a rolling number keeps track of how many children are discovered by Ballard. It’s a necessary breadcrumb for the viewer. The unnecessary part, however, springs from the sound of a man moaning whenever the number increases. In a film produced by Blumhouse, surely, the sound effect stems from a horror conceit. But in a documentary about a man masturbating, it’s tasteless.
Jourdan struggles to let the tragic stories shared by these men and women to breathe. A jagged and eerie score adds an unnecessary, overbearing mood and tone to their recounting. Staged scenes of Ballard dressed in a red hoodie, hunched over her computer as a web of papers and photos surround her, are closer to comical than serious. And the obvious reenactments of an actor playing Cline in scenes with the real-life Ballard are strained, at best; amateurish at worst. At every turn, Jourdan is determined to relegate this crime to a tacky TruTV documentary.