MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Real Dads of Hollywood

Over Father’s Day weekend as my kids and I were plotting and planning how to make their dad’s day a special one, I thought about writing a column this week on great movies about dads and fatherhood. Unfortunately, I realized in trying to come up with a list of films I would include in such a piece that it would be a very short one. Just as Hollywood likes to box women, gays and minorities into cozy little stereotyped boxes, movies tend to paint men and their ability to adapt to the challenges of marriage and parenthood in less-than-flattering ways, with the typical marriage dynamic being the wife as the bossy mother figure keeping her wayward would-be adolescent husband on track, whether he likes it or not.

Stop me if you’ve heard this plot before: a guy in his early 30s loves to hang out with his loser bachelor friends playing video games, golf, or bowling, having poker nights with his buds and going to clubs on weekends, or other such manly-man pursuits. His wife/girlfriend, who he may actually love quite a lot (though he’d never admit that to his pals, of course) gets pregnant, and he has to reluctantly face the idea of becoming a father. Meanwhile the once-sexy woman he fell in love with evolves into a swollen, fat, nag who seems less and less attractive as the film goes on.

Or this one: a man who’s focused more on career than family is thrust by some circumstance into having to care for a small child(ren), and over the course of 90 or so minutes this profoundly affects who he is as a person, magically rendering him less self-absorbed by the closing credits.

Most relationship movies start with the premise that what women want is to be tied down with a particular man, and that this is undesirable to the man because he has to give up his freedom to come and go as he pleases, or to have guys’ nights at strip clubs, or to spend frivolously on the latest electronic gadgets, or to go to Vegas or Thailand at the last minute. Hollywood never seems to think that women might value their freedom as much as men, or that a man might find satisfaction — dare I say, even happiness? — in settling down and raising a family with a partner he loves.

This isn’t anything new in Hollywood. It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my favorite films for sentimental reasons, but it’s also one of my least favorite films about fatherhood and marriage. George Bailey, who dreamed of being a world traveler and explorer, ends up tied down by life and death and circumstance into holding down the family-run savings and loan. Because of this, he ends up marrying Mary. George loves Mary and, presumably, their pack of kids, but that love is not enough to fully drive out the wanderlust and might-have-beens that eat away his soul with discontent and resentment.

It takes a life crisis and an intervening angel to make George see how wonderful his life really is; angels being in rather short supply these days, a guy in George’s position in 2009 might not see the error of his ways before he jumped off that metaphorical bridge. And Hollywood’s outlook on men and marriage hasn’t changed a great deal since George Bailey learned his life was worth living and Clarence got his wings, although there are a few exceptions here and there.

Mrs. Doubtfire and Kramer vs. Kramer both at least show fathers as actively caring for and loving their kids, and I like Mr. Mom quite a lot for the way in which it shows the reversal of roles when the wife brings home the bacon for the man to fry up in the pan (although that one loses a few points for being filled with stereotypes of the ineptitude of men at performing basic tasks of housework and childcare). And although I don’t get much of the body of Tyler Perry‘s work, I do have to give him credit for Daddy’s Little Girls for having a strong father figure, although Perry set that up largely by the contrast of having the ex-wife be such a superbitch that most any man would look good by comparison.

Some more recent films have dealt with issues of fatherhood in ways that are at least interesting. Jason Bateman‘s reluctant would-be adoptive father in Juno struggles with the desire to please his wife (clearly painted as the nagging mom in the mother/child dynamic of their marriage) versus his desire to be free: free of her control, free to live in a studio apartment with all his stuff surrounding him, rather than relegated to one room, free to not be responsible for raising a child. Free, perhaps, to pursue an inappropriate relationship with the teenage girl who’s giving birth to the child he was supposed to adopt.

In HumpdayMark Duplass‘s Ben has settled down into a comfortable, traditional life with his “cool” wife Anna in a cute little Seattle cottage with a picket fence. They seem to have a good relationship, a solid foundation on which to build a family, and they’ve actively started aiming for parenthood. Then Ben’s friend Andrew shows up, and Ben begins to question whether he’s really ready for the stable life, or if he has a bit more wild partying and porn film making to get out of his system.

I like a lot of things about this movie, not the least of which is its honesty about the fragility of our relationships. Ben and Anna think they’ve built stability, but all it takes is one wild card to throw things awry. I’d almost like to see a follow-up without the shock of the porn angle, wherein Andrew shows up again a few years later when Ben and Anna have settled into raising a couple of kids and throws a wrench into the works again.

Marley & Me, one of the year’s surprise hits, has one of the more refreshingly honest depictions of long-term relationships and the challenges of parenthood I’ve seen in a film. It works because it rings so true, particularly after the second kid comes along and they’re just exhausted and bitchy with each other, resenting the way life has gone for them but not sure how to fix it, and not even sure they want to. It speaks to truths about marriage and parenthood that the glossy parenting mags don’t like to talk about. Maintaining a solid marriage through life changes and kids isn’t easy, it’s hard — and Marley & Me gets that without resorting to showing John being a dolt as a husband and father or Jenny as nothing more than a nagging bitch.

Is there truth in Hollywood’s stereotyping of men adapting to the responsibilities of parenthood? And how does this stereotyping reinforce the notions a lot of boys grow up having about themselves as males and how they’ll handle the transition to being a grown man? I don’t believe men are by nature any more incompetent than women when it comes to learning to manage marriage and parenthood, but Hollywood sure seems to think so.

Most of us, both men and women, are selfish creatures in our heart of hearts; we make the sacrifices we make for our kids because we find the value of raising kids outweighs the freedoms we had without them. Many of us end up finding deep joy in parenthood, in spite of the trade-offs, and most men are perfectly capable of learning to care for and nuture their kids just as well as women, when their wives will back up out of the way and give them space to learn and grow as dads.

But maybe this is all just wishful thinking on my part. You tell me, guys: does Hollywood have it right when it comes to men, marriage and fatherhood? And do all men secretly want to be adolescents forever?

– by Kim Voynar

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon