The Best Father’s Day Movies for…”Complicated” Relationships

By | June 22, 2020

Not everybody has Phil Dunphy as a dad, and even though TV rarely shows fathers as warts-and-all (Tony Soprano, Vic Mackey, and Walter White are closer to villains on their respective shows), luckily there’s been enough movies to have your Father’s Day entertainment covered…

If your father was a monster you should watch“Affliction,” Nick Nolte plays the adult son of an abusive, mean alcoholic, and finds himself still held hostage by this relationship even into late middle-age. James Coburn plays his father in a career-best performance that won him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. This is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen about how childhood traumas leak out into adulthood, almost like time-release capsules, as Nolte’s relationship with his own daughter is clearly being affected. This is not an easy watch, but it just might save your life. [Also, Nolte should’ve won Best Actor the year this came out, but Roberto Benini took his absurd win for “Life is Beautiful” from four infinitely more deserving performances.]

If your father died early you should watch“Frequency,” this is one of the all-time crowd pleasers as an adult Jim Caviezel reconnects with his father (Dennis Quaid, effortlessly appealing) who died when he was a kid via a time traveling radio frequency. It’s got a somewhat-standard thriller plot (father and son team up to stop dad’s death and a killer), but there’s a reason people love this movie: it touches on the idea of correcting the past and getting back someone you love. Not a dry eye in the house

If your father left you should watch“Ad Astra,” Brad Pitt gives a career-best performance as an emotionally shutdown astronaut on a mission to Neptune to reconnect with his mysterious father (Tommy Lee Jones, equal parts tyrannical and vulnerable). Writer/Director James Gray combines a plot that is “Apocalypse Now,” “2001,” and Greek Tragedy all rolled into one, and uses the vastness of space as a metaphor for the distance Pitt feels from his own emotions. [His Spacecom superiors constantly monitor his emotional state, freaked out that he might experience an actual feeling.] Too many actors play emotional repression as completely aloof (Ryan Gosling in “First Man”), but Pitt manages to make you feel what Roy is hiding from without ever going over-the-top. An impressive performance and some truly thrilling action sequences, not to mention your heart breaks when Pitt says the words “I know dad” after his father has finally confirmed how little he’s missed his family all these years. Fantastic

If your father is estranged you should watch“Big Fish,” this is one of the few positive portrayals of Alabama, and (in my opinion) one of Tim Burton’s best. Billy Crudup plays the sourpuss son of a legendary storyteller and traveling salesman who is known for his tall tales that may (or may not) be fabricated. Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney play the toweringly jovial figure of Edward Bloom, and both are clearly relishing the task. The emotional climax of the movie has father and son finally, finally, finally understanding each other for the first time in their lives, and how many actual fathers and sons get that? Some critics have called this movie schmaltzy, but that’s acting a lot more like Crudup than Finney and missing the point by a mile. Watch this movie for its unabashed emotionalism and beautiful imagery, and be surprised at how affecting the surreal can be.

And for the fathers of small children wanting to watch something with their kids: “The Incredibles” Anyone with children under 10 (and especially under 5) knows it can be tough to find things the whole family can not only watch together but enjoy together. Although the second “Incredibles” movie is an overstuffed, undercooked mess that is surprisingly unsatisfying–the first “Incredibles” is easily one of the best 5 Pixar films ever made. It’s especially good Father’s Day entertainment because it’s one of the only animated family entertainments I’ve ever seen that deals with a father’s emotions (beyond just “must protect kids”) and inner story. “Mr. Incredible” feels washed-up, under appreciated, crammed into a life that’s too small, and in the midst of a full-blown existential crisis. That is admittedly heady stuff for a kid’s movie, and is all the more remarkable for also being hilarious, touching, and downright fun. Rather than watching Minions, Marvel, or talking animals, give dad a break and watch this instead.

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