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