Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Feris’s Little Miss Sunshine
Nate von Zumwalt
Parenting is an inexact science. In fact, it’s probably not a science at all. There is no hard-and-fast guideline, no determinate order of operations to raising a happy and successful child, and the work generally outweighs the leisure. To that end, and in observance of Father’s Day this Sunday, we offer a small consolation in the form of our favorite Sundance films with fascinating fathers. While they don’t all exhibit exemplary parenting, they certainly make for good film.
Director Noah Baumbach’s 2005 Sundance Film Festival selection is a pointed portrait of a family at odds in the wake of a failed marriage, and a demonstration on the don’ts of fatherhood. Jeff Daniels plays Bernard Berkman, a pompous intellectual and the father of a dysfunctional family traversing the treacherous landscape of divorce. Incisive, edifying, and hilarious, The Squid and the Whale is expertly in tune with a painfully out-of-touch family played by Daniels, Laura Linney, Owen Kline, and Jesse Eisenberg.
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Feris’ debut feature had a boisterous coming-out party at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival (to the tune of a $10.5 million deal with Fox Searchlight) and wrapped up an incomparable year on the Festival circuit and at the box office by garnering four Oscar nominations.
Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear) is an aspiring motivational speaker at the helm—quite literally—of a family road trip to California to see his daughter, Olive (Abigail Breslin), compete in the finals of a beauty pageant. While at times misguided, Hoover exudes the fervor and visceral adoration only found in a father’s love for his daughter. Paul Dano, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, and Toni Collete round out a brilliant cast and form an amalgam of peculiar personalities in this hilarious road film.
Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) is a down and out high school professor and the father of Kyle (Daryl Sabara), a smartass teenager whose petulance has robbed him of any valuable relationships. Lance has seemingly been dealt a bad hand, having failed in his quest to become a revered writer and plagued by the antics of his only child. But when Kyle unintentionally kills himself by asphyxiation, another road—albeit a crooked one—to a famed writing career is presented to Lance.
The Horse Boy (Over the Hills and Far Away)
Rupert Isaacson and Kristin Neff are the parents of Rowan, a young boy recently diagnosed with autism. After initial attempts at conventional therapies, Rupert identifies his son’s predilection for horses as an avenue toward healing and plans a trip to the one known land that merges shamanic healing and horseback riding: Mongolia. What ensues is a poignant story interweaved with moments of pure bliss and crippling heartbreak, and ultimately a jarring depiction of the ever-present struggle the Isaacson family faces. Rupert narrates Michael Orion Scott’s Audience Award winning film with a tender and honest voice as he confronts his son’s disorder with endearing tenacity.
Sebastian Marroquin fled to Buenos Aires and assumed a new identity after the death of his father, Pablo Escobar, the ruthless Colombian drug lord. In Nicolas Mentel’s haunting documentary, Marroquin embarks on a courageous mission to heal the wounds inflicted by his father’s atrocious crimes. Sins of My Father blends archival and original footage in a riveting documentary that culminates in a remarkable meeting between Marroquin and the sons of two of his father’s most well-known victims.