5 Father’s Day Movies

5 Father’s Day Movies June 16, 2024

From French film The Finishers (Source: YouTube screenshot)

Good films about fatherhood seem rare, or at least rare-ish. In honor of the day, here are five quick takes on some films that made me think about fatherhood in fresh ways.

Father Soldier Son

Most of these are going to be light, but I’ll add something very heavy for balance. This feature-length documentary began life as a New York Times essay on the life of a single father in the military, then became a short film, then expanded into something more as the filmmakers followed this little family for over a decade. It’s not for the faint-hearted. The father, Brian, is wounded in action while trying to save an Afghan officer. He becomes a cripple, then eventually an amputee. His two sons are fiercely patriotic, yet their love is tested as their dad becomes a changed man—not drunken, abusive, or suicidal, but just changed. Weary. Bitter. In pain. Before our eyes, the oldest son grows into a fine, sensitive young man, a man who still deeply loves his father, but is reluctant to follow in his footsteps. But the younger son wants to enlist as soon as he’s of age. If he ever got hurt like Daddy, he reflects that “I’d bet you it wouldn’t feel good, but I’d know I did something right.”

This is not a feel-good documentary. It’s painful in expected and unexpected ways, and it left me profoundly unsettled by the time credits rolled (though Brian has continued to heal and become a motivational speaker since the film’s release). It asks probing questions about masculinity, about war, about what our wars have done to our men. It’s about an ordinary American family stumbling towards meaning in an age when our meaning-making institutions have failed. It should motivate all of us to pray earnestly for men like Brian, and for their sons.

Concrete Cowboy

Did you know there was a community of black urban cowboys in Pennsylvania? I had no idea, but this is a great little movie about them. The storyline isn’t terribly original—troubled teen is chastened by time spent with animals and wise older men—but the setting is distinctive and mesmerizing. Idris Elba and Caleb McLaughlin turn in fine performances as a father and son struggling to know each other. Of course, it’s the horses who really steal the show, especially that one horse no one can seem to tame. (Will the kid tame him? Do you even have to ask?) My favorite scene is a sequence where the boy learns the most efficient way to shovel manure, taking instructions from an old salt in a wheelchair. What the film lacks in plot, it makes up for in little moments like this. A fine feel-good watch.

Chef

Not a deep film, but a joyful little comedy about food, fatherhood, and artistic integrity. I just remember wanting to eat everything Jon Favreau makes in this thing. But it’s not just about his cooking, it’s a whole love letter to American food culture. I visited New Orleans for the first time this January and got beignets from a Cafe du Monde truck (as one must in New Orleans), so the scene where father inducts son into the ritual is especially sweet on rewatch. “So what else are you here to buy?” “Nothing. Just wanted to get beignets with you.”

Roommates

Technically, this is a grandfather-grandson film, but I’m sneaking it in anyway because it’s so sweet, and so underrated. Peter Falk is Rocky, a Polish-American baker who adopts his little grandson after the boy’s parents die. Rocky lives by the motto “Family takes care of family!” And so Rocky does, as only Rocky can. Twenty years later, the boy has a chance to return the favor when grandpa gets evicted. Of course, he’s simultaneously trying to get laid with his future wife. Corny 90s hijinks ensue. But the film ends up being a surprisingly thoughtful balance of comedy and drama as we follow this little family saga. Without giving any twists away, I found it to be an interesting window on how men of this period were taught to carry grief and depression. When the grandson feels like he can’t go on, his grandfather adjures him to be a man, and we’re meant to believe this is all the therapy he needs. Perhaps this is simplistic. But we’ll never see men like Rocky again.

The Finishers

I watched this French film, appropriately, on an international flight out of France. It tells a wonderfully understated story of a boy with cerebral palsy and his dream to complete an Iron Man with his distant workaholic father, a former athlete who conquered the triathlon in his youth. The original French title is De toutes nos forces, “With All Our Strength.” Father and son—and mother, too—must find that strength. There really aren’t any surprises in this film, but I didn’t need any. It does exactly what it sets out to do. It’s the perfect Father’s Day film.

What’s yours?

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