Father’s Day is just around the corner. And since ugly ties are pretty passe these days, many a child is wondering just how to honor their dads.
My advice, at least for my own kids: power tools. You can never go wrong with a miter saw.
But movies also give us a good tool to celebrate the proud papas in our lives. And given that this is an entertainment site, it feels more appropriate to steer away from home improvement instruments and look at some of cinema’s most powerful, provocative and even prickly movies about dads (because we fathers don’t always know, or do, best).
For the animation lover: Finding Nemo (2003, G): This Pixar classic just might be the best movie about dads, starring fish, that you’ll ever see. The dad in question: Marlin, a single-parent clownfish, who’s trying to raise his son, Nemo, to adulthood. Not the easiest of jobs, especially when your son has a stunted fin and you live in an ocean. It’s not surprising that Marlin’s become a wee overprotective over time. But when Nemo’s fish-napped by a scuba diver, Marlin takes on an epic quest to find him—and learns one or two valuable lessons along the way. This film has nary a bit of content (though it can be pretty perilous at times), and it’s available on Disney+ for free.
For the sci-fi fan: Interstellar (2014, PG-13): Director Christopher Nolan is known for his brain-twisting tales, and Interstellar—featuring leaps through space and time—is Nolan at his twistiest. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain, this fable is the story of a father and daughter who, like Marlin and Nemo, lose each other and go to tremendous lengths to find one another again. The movie, as a movie, doesn’t work all the time. And it has some content issues to be well aware of, so check out our review. But the story, for all its oddities, is very tender and human at its core. And it gives us a father who dearly loves his daughter—and a daughter who comes to understand just how much. It’s available on Hulu and Sling with a premium subscription.
For the superhero dad: Thor (PG-13, 2011): Dads can teach kids everything they know. They can love them to the ends of the earth and beyond. But eventually, those kids grow up and start making their own decisions—and they’re not always the ones dads would’ve picked for them. Sure, Thor isn’t the best of Marvel movies. It’s violent, sometimes profane and features another level of Plugged In difficulty in that the main characters are considered by some to be lowercase “g” gods. But it’s also the story of a father trying to give his headstrong sons—brash and vain Thor and conniving, mischievous Loki—a bit of level-headed wisdom and, critically, some timely tough love. Thor has even a nice message about adoption, too, if you look hard enough. This movie illustrates how hard it can be to raise children, be they on Asgard or Earth. But the time spent doing it is worth it. You can find it on Disney+.
For the old-movie fan: To Kill a Mockingbird (G-1962): This classic film starring Gregory Peck gives us one of moviedom’s greatest heroes—who just happens to be a loving, caring father, as well. Gregory Peck stars as Atticus Finch, a small-town Southern lawyer who defends a Black man wrongly accused of a horrific crime. To Kill a Mockingbird gives us, In Atticus, an aspirational character—a man who pursues what’s right no matter the danger or cost, and who passes those wise lessons onto his two watching children. I don’t think any streaming service has this available for free, but you can rent it from a bevy of them (including YouTube, Apple TV and Amazon Prime) for $3.99.
For the cinephile: The Tree of Life (PG-13, 2011): Mr. O’Brien, played by Brad Pitt, isn’t much like Atticus Finch, even when he tries to be. He, too, takes the role of fatherhood seriously, trying to teach his boys the importance of strength. Responsibility. Power. The real hero of The Tree of Life is really the mother, played by Jessica Chastain. And yet, in this dreamlike meditation on family and meaning, we see value in this flawed father, as well—a man trying to do the best he can, a man who has wisdom to share but doesn’t always know how. Director Terrence Malick’s work isn’t for everyone: His cinematic musings float across the air rather than barrel along the narrative tracks, and this film—nominated for a bevy of Oscars, including Best Picture—runs more than 3 hours long. But for those who gravitate toward Malick’s work, The Tree of Life is a film worth the time. You can rent it on a number of services for $3.99.