Pop psychology

This year, fathers loomed large (and caused havoc) at the multiplex

Oh father: Annie Buckley and Colin Farrell in Saving Mr. Banks

By Sara Maria Vizcarrondo


YEAR IN FILM When Labor Day's sexpot convict Josh Brolin holds Kate Winslet and her son hostage in their home, you know he's dangerous even though he's not exactly threatening. He starts cooking and fixing stuff around the house, and quickly slips into the role of surrogate father-husband. He's not just doing it because Winslet's hot divorcee could use company or her son could use a manly example, he's filling a void left by an inferior dad whose apology for leaving began, "If I were a better man..." (Labor Day opens in SF next month.)

From fallen fathers to dishonest daddies, 2013's movies featured a lot of bad providers. Some were crooks, others were benign fuckups, and their stories didn't necessarily end with redemption or comeuppance. What's more, most of the men stumbled into fatherhood — and none more clumsily than Delivery Man's David, played with surprising pathos by Vince Vaughn.

David's just gotten excited about his girlfriend's pregnancy when he learns that his years-ago decision to bank enough sperm to finance a European vacation has resulted in 533 "surprises." (Director Ken Scott helmed both Delivery Man and its Canadian inspiration, Starbuck.) Oh, and a group of his offspring have filed a class-action lawsuit, intent on discovering who their father is. Granted, it seems unfair to judge him as a parent. He's blindsided by the existence of his adult kids — and his reaction is to do the embarrassing, heartwarming shit dads do to get to know their teenagers. He may be dumb enough to pile up mob debt, but he's sticking his neck out as far as it'll go for relative strangers. (Now that's the kind of setup — speaking of Brolin flicks — that could almost make Oldboy plausible.)

And then there's Irving Rosenfeld, Christian Bale's upwardly mobile con artist in American Hustle. Irv cheats on his wife, but he's loyal as hell to his stepson, and he stays on the take to provide for the little guy. The Wolf of Wall Street's manic maniac Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) swindles the one percent purely to satisfy his own ego. The obscenely rich Quaalude addict could easily buy an island for the world's orphans. He hires hookers instead.

Wolf is full of drug-fueled sequences that are played for laughs, until the ugliest, most over-the-top scene, which transpires in front of Jordan's toddler daughter. Finally, the line is crossed. Long having left that line in the dust, along with his dignity, is Kyle Chandler's weary dad in The Spectacular Now — an alcoholic whose wasted life serves as a warning to his teenage son, whose own boozy habits suggest history is about to repeat itself.

If all you had to go on was 2013's movies, you could believe someone had to grift, jerk off, and/or do time to be a man. Even foreign releases featured patriarchs with bad judgment. Asghar Farhadi's The Past begins as Iranian Ahmad (Ali Mossafa) travels to France to finalize his divorce to anxious Marie (Bérénice Bejo); before long, he's playing traffic cop and detective in a morass that involves Marie's new boyfriend (Tahar Rahim) and an array of children (none of whom are Ahmad's). What some people call help, others call "codependence."

Related articles

  • Year in Film: Jesse Hawthorne Ficks' Eclectic 2013 Countdown

  • Watch out!

    THE YEAR IN FILM: Films in 2013 favored solo peril, moody self-discovery, and greed-fueled plunges

  • Bully pulpit

    Why it doesn't "get better" for Carrie White