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Movie Reviews

Media Notebook: Fathers on Film

Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, left, and Will Smith star in a scene from the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness." The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (OSV News photo/Columbia, CNS archive)

(OSV News) — Depictions of dads on screen have varied greatly over the decades, from the days when father generally knew best to more recent movies in which parents of both sexes were portrayed as utterly clueless. Still, both Hollywood films and international productions have frequently featured admirable — or at least endearing — pas.

Following, in alphabetical order, are capsule reviews of 15 pictures in which fatherhood plays a prominent part. Unless otherwise noted, they have not been rated by the Motion Picture Association. All are available on DVD and/or for streaming.


“An Autumn Afternoon” (1962)

Japanese story in which a widower (Chishu Ryu) encourages his daughter to marry rather than devote her life to looking after him and, after she weds, faces the loneliness he knew would result. Directed by Yasujiro Ozu, the production is rich in the rhythm of life, the warmth of humanity and the web of family relationships that sustain any individual. Subtitles. Tough sledding for youngsters. The OSV News classification is A-I — general patronage.


“The Bicycle Thief” (aka “Bicycle Thieves”) (1949)

Simple yet compelling study in desperation as a worker (Lamberto Maggiorani) must find his stolen bicycle or lose his new job. Ignored by the police and others, the man and his young son (Enzo Staiola) search the streets for it until, in despair, he himself tries to steal a bicycle. Scripted by Cesare Zavattini and directed by Vittorio De Sica, the result is an engrossing picture of the human realities of life on the edge of poverty, shot on the streets of Rome with a cast of nonprofessionals that brought a new realism to the postwar screen and a new emotional honesty to the stories it told. Subtitles. Some earthy references. The OSV News classification is A-III — adults.


“Big Fish” (2003)

Enchanting fable about an estranged son (Billy Crudup) who returns home to reconnect with his dying father (Albert Finney), a compulsive storyteller, and discovers that the tall tales he was told as a youngster hold the key to unlocking his father’s elusive past. Blending fantasy and reality, director Tim Burton’s delightful fish story is sure to reel viewers in by suggesting that life is not a problem to be solved but an adventure and a mystery to be embraced with a childlike sense of wonder. Brief violence, an instance of rear nudity and minimal mildly crude humor and language. The OSV News classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.


“Cheaper by the Dozen” (1950)

Warm family comedy about the unusual domestic arrangements in the New Jersey household of a no-nonsense efficiency expert (Clifton Webb), his equally proficient wife (Myrna Loy) and their 12 children (Jeanne Crain is the eldest). Set in the early part of the 20th century, director Walter Lang’s episodic, fact-based story has a strong nostalgic appeal along with a genial sense of humor about family life, some of which proves more than funny (e.g., Mildred Natwick as a bemused planned-parenthood representative). Still pleases. The OSV News classification is A-I — general patronage.


“Daddy Day Care” (2003)

Entertaining family-comedy about an unemployed ad exec (Eddie Murphy) who tries his hand at professional parenting by operating a daycare business out of his home. Directed by Steve Carr, the contrived fish-out-of-water premise is buoyed by a heartfelt — albeit heavy-handed — affirmation of fatherhood, making it easy to applaud and suitable even for many pre-teen youngsters. Some toilet jokes. The OSV News classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.


“Father of the Bride” (1950)

Delightful comedy from Edward Streeter’s novel about a self-assured suburbanite (Spencer Tracy) suddenly thrust into the unfamiliar world of wedding preparations and financial obligations when his daughter (Elizabeth Taylor) announces her engagement. Brightly directed by Vincente Minnelli, Tracy is superb as the caring but confused head of the household helped by patient wife Joan Bennett to come to terms with their daughter’s vision of the perfect wedding. Amusing yet perceptive view of middle-class life and family values. The OSV News classification is A-I — general patronage.


“Father of the Bride, Part II” (1995)

Warm-hearted sequel (and remake of 1951’s “Father’s Little Dividend”) in which good-natured dad (Steve Martin) copes with the pregnancies of both his daughter (Kimberly Williams) and wife (Diane Keaton) while feeling too young to be called gramps but too old to be pushing a baby buggy. Director Charles Shyer’s sentimental domestic comedy is frequently funny in its wholesome depiction of family life. Mild sexual innuendo. The OSV News classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.


“Fiddler on the Roof” (1971)

Fine screen adaptation of Joseph Stein’s Broadway musical about Tevye (Topol), a milk seller in a Czarist Russian village whose life of Orthodox Judaism is filled with joy and sadness but always buoyed by the human spirit and eternal hope. Struggling in a time of cultural and political flux to find suitable husbands for his three dowryless daughters, Tevye’s faith and hope and sheer love of life and humankind keep him and the family going. Norman Jewison’s direction does full justice to a rich and appealing musical that the whole family can enjoy. The OSV News classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association rating is G — general audiences. All ages admitted.


“Finding Nemo” (2003)

Delightful aquatic adventure about a timid tropical fish (voice of Albert Brooks) who journeys across vast stretches of treacherous ocean in order to rescue his son Nemo (voice of Alexander Gould), who has been captured by scuba divers and placed in a dentist’s fish tank. With beautiful computer animation and memorable characters, director Andrew Stanton creates an enchanting fish fable about friendship, heroism and the love between a father and son. The OSV News classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association rating is G — general audiences. All ages admitted.


“I Am Sam” (2001)

Heartfelt drama about a mentally handicapped single father (Sean Penn) fighting to regain custody of his 7-year-old daughter (Dakota Fanning) with the help of a high-powered, self-absorbed attorney (Michelle Pfeiffer). Director Jessie Nelson’s feel-good tearjerker refreshingly maintains the importance of love in a parent-child relationship, but a few Hollywoodesque contrivances strike false notes in an otherwise fine film. Some profanity and an instance of rough language. The OSV News classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.


“Imagine That” (2009)

A work-obsessed investment adviser (Eddie Murphy) connects with his young daughter (Yara Shahidi) after accidentally discovering that the inhabitants of an imaginary kingdom she has created give accurate financial predictions, aiding him in his competition with a pretentious but popular rival (Thomas Haden Church). Director Karey Kirkpatrick’s charming comic fantasy, which also features Martin Sheen as a renowned tycoon, elevates family bonds over the paper kind and, a couple of slightly crass terms aside, makes appropriate viewing for all generations. The OSV News classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.


“Life With Father” (1947)

Fine adaptation of the Howard Lindsay-Russel Crouse play about the domineering head (William Powell) of a New York City household at the turn of the century who sees no need of baptism to be a good Episcopalian, until his wife (Irene Dunne) makes him see the light. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the droll proceedings are based on the reminiscences of Clarence Day Jr., who recalls his father’s foibles as well as his own adolescent antics with nostalgic fondness and much good-natured irony. Domestic tensions and youthful hijinks. The OSV News classification is A-II — adults and adolescents.


“The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006)

Feel-good tale based on the true story of a selfless medical supply salesman (Will Smith) who, after his wife (Thandie Newton) walks out, raises his 5-year-old son (Jaden Christopher Syre Smith) on his own while pursuing a new career path as a stockbroker in an unpaid internship while enduring financial struggles, homelessness and other vicissitudes. A bit long and occasionally repetitive, but there’s a lump-in-the-throat payoff, and director Gabriele Muccino’s film scores high on the inspirational message scale, with Smith’s character doing all he can to nurture his son under trying circumstances and projecting admirable decency throughout. A few instances of crude language and marital discord. The OSV News classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.


“To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962)

When a Southern lawyer (Gregory Peck) undertakes the defense of a black man (Brock Peters) accused of rape, he has to help his young children cope with the town’s racial hostilities and their own fears of a mentally disabled neighbor (Robert Duvall). In this fine adaptation of the Harper Lee novel, director Robert Mulligan evokes a nostalgic picture of small-town life as seen mostly through the eyes of a youngster whose father is a reassuring figure of integrity in the confusing world of adults. Excellent for discussions of racial prejudice. The OSV News classification is A-II — adults and adolescents.


“What a Girl Wants” (2003)

Contemporary fairytale about a spirited American teen-ager (Amanda Bynes) who travels to London in search of the father she has never known only to find out that she is the daughter of a blueblood politician (Colin Firth) running for Parliament. Directed by Dennie Gordon, this delightful modern Cinderella story celebrates the bonds between parents and children and the possibility of second chances that love affords. Instances of mildly offensive language and scattered sexual innuendos. The OSV News classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

John Mulderig is media reviewer for OSV News. Follow him on Twitter @JohnMulderig1.

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