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Eddie Murphy is back, but this time without a fat suit or talking animal in sight. Instead, he delivers a sweet, nuanced, and funny performance as a father baffled and intimidated by his daughter. Imagine That opens June 12, just in time for Father's Day, and explores the unique joys of being a dad.
Murphy plays Evan, a high-powered financial advisor. His one weakness is his inability to connect with his daughter, Olivia (Yara Shahidi), whom he loves but doesn't understand. Olivia hasn't adjusted to her parents' divorce. She spends hours huddled under her security blanket, whispering to imaginary friends. Her mother is concerned and Evan is annoyed until Olivia starts relaying stock advice from the imaginary princesses, advice that turns out to be preternaturally accurate. Evan wants to outplay his rival, the over-the-top Native American sham artist Johnny Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church). However, as Evan starts pretending to enter her imaginary world more and more, he begins to fall in love more with his daughter and less with her stock advice.
Those who remember Murphy in Dr. Doolittle, Daddy Day Care, and the shudder-inducing Norbit are likely a little gun-shy about Eddie Murphy movies. However, his performance has more in common with his role in Dreamgirls than the recent goofy throwaways, proving that he has the chops to be a serious actor. Murphy is not afraid to allow Evan to be unlikable in the beginning, selfish and oblivious to his daughter's needs, giving weight to his ultimate transformation. Yara Shahidi is adorable and lights up the screen.
The film (rated PG for some mild language and brief questionable behavior) is a well-written and well-acted, if sometimes confusing, meditation on the constant search to find balance between career and family. It's a love story between a father and daughter, one of the best kinds of love story.