Sometime between co-writing Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” and the Academy Award-winning song from “Selma,” rapper- composer Che “Rhymefest” Smith began an even trickier collaboration: rehabilitating his homeless, alcoholic father. That project is central to “In My Father’s House,” a documentary that’s both moving and frustrating.
The movie was directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, but Smith himself started shooting footage before they arrived. Essentially, the 38-year-old rapper commissioned this film, which is as much about him as it is about Brian, the father he didn’t see for almost 25 years. Smith is candid about his up-and-down music career and his personal missteps, some of which mirror his dad’s. Yet the movie would have benefited from a more independent outlook.
In 2012, Smith literally bought the house where his father grew up, a modest dwelling on Chicago’s South Side. He moved in with his wife and his teenage son, one of several children — the exact number is a topic of debate in the film — that predate his marriage. Smith learned that his dad was nearby, sleeping most nights in a local shelter. The musician arranged a meeting, and then worked to provide the ingredients of a regular life: sobriety, a GED, a job, an apartment.
Brian’s makeover is the movie’s principal concern. But viewers may wonder more about Smith. How did he overcome not one, but two absentee parents? And what happened to all the money he made during his fleeting moment as a star? “In My Father’s House” offers lots of interesting raw material, but it could use a disinterested observer’s remix.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
R. At AMC Hoffman Center 22. Contains profanity, alcohol abuse and smoking. 93 minutes.