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Adam R. Holz

Movie Review

A man’s midlife crisis is a bit like a pack of hungry wolves that attacks from multiple directions. At least, that’s how Ben Marcus feels these days.

Even though his faithful work as a video editor on the hit reality show Rosie’s Roses has earned Ben multiple awards, let’s just say that affirmation isn’t host Rosie Puncher’s love language: “You made me look like a moron, for heaven’s sakes!” she shrieks at him after watching his work on her latest episode.

And Ben’s homelife? Well, his wife’s not thrilled with his performance there, either. “Can you help out around the house?” Jesssica scolds. “Jack needs help with his math homework.” Then there’s that toilet that’s been broken for … a long time. Sure. Ben promises wearily. I’ll get right on that.

Meanwhile, Ben’s dreams of being a stand-up comedian like his father have long since shriveled up. And though he claims to be a Christian, the only real action the guy’s Bible sees is when Ben tosses it in the back of his SUV after church each week.

Yeah, it’s pretty much a textbook midlife crisis: Ben’s not happy at work. Not happy at home. Not pursuing his dreams. And faking his way through his faith, too. Maybe those problems aren’t literally as deadly as that pack of hungry wolves, mind you. But Ben’s still feeling pretty chewed up. And pretty sorry for himself, too.  

That’s when his tween son, Jack, opens a window into a world Ben didn’t know existed: UToo videos. Jack tells Ben that people can make millions of dollars just posting videos that others “like.”

Suddenly Ben has a new inspiration. Maybe his dreams of being a comedian aren’t dead after all. Sure, his first video telling lame jokes goes absolutely nowhere. But when Ben films himself struggling—and failing badly—to fix that broken toilet, that’s another story. The video goes viral. Soon he’s got 90,000 views. Thousands of subscribers. A tool company’s endorsement.

Yep, it’s all good for Ben now. Except that becoming Selfie Dad (his adopted social media moniker, never mind that he never takes an actual selfie) on UToo hasn’t done any favors for his family or his faith—a pair of interconnected lessons this narcissistic guy in the midst of a midlife crisis is going to have to learn the hard way.

Positive Elements

Overwhelmed dads everywhere may find themselves nodding quietly in agreement when Ben tells a coworker, “I’m trying, man. I’m trying.” And in those moments, it’s easy for a man to slip into a bit of self-pity when it seems as if his hard work and faithfulness aren’t really noticed by anyone—even as it seems his every mistake seems to get shouted from the rooftops. In that context, Ben’s sudden internet fame on UToo feeds his sense of self-worth and prompts him to dream big again. It gives Ben a sense of purpose. But that overnight attention also feeds Ben’s growing midlife narcissism. It comes at the expense of his marriage; his relationship with struggling teen daughter, Hannah; and his steady-but-unsatisfying success at his “day job” as a video editor. As the story unfolds, we see that Ben’s swift success has a shadow side that he’s forced to confront—which, to his credit, he eventually does. Jessica, for her part, really isn’t a henpecking wife. She’s genuinely frustrated with Ben’s passivity and relational aloofness. She longs for Ben to be present as a father and husband, to truly engage in their children’s lives. But she’s rightly frustrated with Ben’s self-absorption and, at times, his honest-to-goodness immaturity as a husband and a father. Elsewhere, Ben’s tempted to have an affair. (More on that in Sexual Content.) But he resists the temptation and draws clear boundaries to protect himself and his marriage. Ben’s selfishness hurts his daughter—especially when he misses a performance of the musical that she’s in. She’s drifting toward rebellion and perhaps sexual experimentation when Ben humbly and vulnerably confesses to her that he needs to be a better dad. After Hannah’s out all night and her parents fearing the worst, Ben tells her, “We could take away your cell phone. We could ground you. But I don’t want to do any of that. I just want an open, honest relationship. There’s no way I can ask you to be a better daughter if I’m not willing to be a better father. And I am. I want to do my part. All I ask is—please don’t sneak out anymore.” We gradually learn that Ben’s father was a successful comedian who didn’t resist the temptations of fame—choices that destroyed their family. Ben longs to experience the same success as his father did. But he also rightly fears repeating his dad’s mistakes, too. Finally, Near the end of the film, Ben gets pulled over by a policeman. The officer, like Ben, is black. Ben assumes their shared race means that Ben will get off easily. He’s filming the encounter, and says to the camera, “Ha ha! I thought it was the PO-lice. It’s the BRO-lice. We gonna be alright.” The officer is not amused, and Ben ends up in jail. It should also be pointed out that as the officer is walking up, Ben goes through a version of what’s come to be known as “The Talk,” i.e., a list of rules about how a black person should behave in an encounter with police to minimize the potential for escalation. Ben jokes that a man shouldn’t have any bass in his voice, he should keep his hands on the wheel and that he shouldn’t look an officer directly in the eye. The scene is intended to be disarming and humorous. In our current cultural moment in which police abuses and racism are front and center, the scene could potentially feel to some as if it’s somehow making light of the serious issues involved. That said, the scene could also offer a great potential conversation starter regarding the issues that it’s addressing.

Spiritual Elements

Much of Selfie Dad revolves around a very simple message: prioritizing Scripture and allowing it to transform your life. Indeed, the movie’s tagline is: “Read the Bible. Change Your Life.” We see that Ben and his family are regular churchgoers. Jessica is meaningfully engaged with her faith, but Ben is not. Jessica meets with an older mentor named Carol who wisely counsels her to pray for her husband instead of trying to fix him. And we see Jessica doing exactly that. Another key character in the film is an earnest younger man named Mickey. He’s working in a tech-support role at Ben’s production company. But Mickey’s also close to graduating from seminary and becoming a pastor. What’s more, he’s writing his thesis about the power of being in God’s word. Mickey initially believes Ben is a humble man of God who’s fervently pursuing Jesus. Gradually, it becomes clear how much that isn’t the case, and how much guilt and shame Ben feels for the ways he’s failing in life. Mickey exhorts him, “You’re a mess. We’re all a mess. That’s why we need Jesus. He’s the only way.” Later Mickey tells Ben, “What if the greatest somebody you can be is a man all-in for God? What if you dove deeper into the Bible than you ever have before?” Ben responds, “Look man, you’re young. I got kids, a wife. I can’t afford to be sitting around reading the Bible.” “See, you have a wife and kids and responsibilities,” Mickey counters quickly. “You can’t afford not to read the Bible.” As Ben yields to God’s work in his life, we see the transforming results of that newfound commitment. Everything doesn’t immediately get better. In fact, Ben’s integrity is tested when his online success begins to dry up after he talks about his faith on his UToo channel. What’s clear, though, is that Ben’s faith is influencing his closest relationships in redemptive ways as the would-be comedian grows in humility and other-centeredness.

Sexual Content

At the height of his newfound success, Ben attends an awards banquet for UToo content providers where he wins in the “Best New Comic” category. He’s having a glass of champagne with a young woman named Lori Swanson who unexpectedly makes a pass at him. The encounter first has a sheen of plausible deniability. Lori says that she wants to go back to her hotel room to get comfortable and “get out of these clothes,” a phrase that she initially seems to use innocently. Ben’s expression prompts her to add quickly that she didn’t mean it like that. After a pause she says quietly, “Unless you wanted me to.” Ben hesitates momentarily, clearly tempted by the attractive woman’s offer before offering a stammering denial of her offer. But she later texts him a provocative photo (which we don’t see). Ben is again tempted before muttering to himself, “What I’m not going to do is—I’m not going to be my dad.” He texts back, “Lori, I’ve deleted your photo. My family is too important. I love my wife. Please do not contact me.” We later learn that Jessica had seen the text and her husband’s response, and that Ben’s self-control earned her admiration. As Ben begins to grow spiritually, Jessica tells her husband, “Baby, I am so proud of you. And I have never—and I mean never—been more attracted to you. Maybe we should have the kids go to bed early tonight.” Ben responds eagerly, “Maybe they could take a nap right now!” Hannah seems potentially on the verge of a sexual relationship with a guy she’s attracted to. After she stays out all night, Ben tries to have a very awkward conversation with her about sex, obviously wondering if she’s crossed that threshold. What’s clear (to dad’s relief) is that Hannah hasn’t done anything with the guy in question (whom she now describes as a “massive loser”). Ben tells her, in broad brushstrokes, that he didn’t make such great decisions when he was young, and that he now regrets it. We see Jessica in a camisole.

Violent Content

In frustration, Ben punches a wall and breaks his hand. We hear that Ben’s dad died suddenly of a heart attack. And when his mother learned of her husband’s infidelity after his death, she fell into a depression (Ben relates) and took her own life at the age of 47.

Crude or Profane Language

Rosie’s really kind of a narcissistic terror herself (though her over-the-top role is played for humor). She calls Ben an “idiot” and a “moron.” We also hear one use of, “Oh my gosh!”

Drug and Alcohol Content

As mentioned, Ben and Lori drink champagne. We hear that Ben’s father abused alcohol.

Other Negative Elements

In his first cringe-worthy video, Ben cracks a racially tinged joke that asks, “What do you call a white duck? A quacker.” As mentioned above, Hannah sneaks out of the house to go to a party and doesn’t come home until late the next day.

Conclusion

At the end of Selfie Dad, Ben Marcus tells his online audience, “I opened up  the Bible, and it opened me up. So I’m in. Are you?” It’s a terrific question: Will we let God’s Word reshape and reframe our perspective on the most important things in life? We get a personal glimpse of how that process has worked with Ben. In the midst of a blossoming midlife crisis, Ben becomes increasingly oblivious to his family’s real needs. But as he begins to read God’s Word, the truths about forgiveness and love that he finds pull him out of that selfish spiral, giving him new eyes to see how much his family needs him to be fully present. As a dad myself, that message resonated with me. It’s easy, I think, for fathers and husbands to quietly nurse little pity parties when we feel our contributions—at work, at home—aren’t recognized. But Scripture pulls us out of that kind of unhealthy, self-focused perspective. It calls us to let go of our pettiness and to lay down our lives for those we love the most. And for many fathers who will see this movie, I think Selfie Dad can help accomplish that purpose, too. If you’d like to take the next step in deepening your faith and helping your family grow spiritually as well, Focus on the Family is here to help. Check out the following resources to equip you and your family to thrive in your relationship with God: An Interview With Selfie Dad’s Michael Jr. Hey Dads: Read the Bible, Change Your Life The Superpowers of a Dad Dads Through the Decades: From Ward to Homer to Selfie Dad Bring Your Bible to School Day Adventures in Odyssey Club Free Trial Membership

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Adam R. Holz

After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.