Nate von Zumwalt
Of all the hackneyed representations of “dads” in film, none rings more true than the “weird dad.” Perhaps the notion arrived in tow with our other absurd father fascinations of late—#DadJokes and #DadBods, anyone? This Father’s Day, we take a look at some of the strangest dads to come through Sundance.
Director Noah Baumbach’s 2005 film is a keen 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. While Bernard may not be a paragon of parenthood, he’s still really fucking weird, which is enough for us. Incisive, edifying, and hilarious, The Squid and the Whale is expertly in tune with a painfully out-of-touch family comprised of Daniels, Laura Linney, Owen Kline, and Jesse Eisenberg.
It’s probably the film with a father most tailor-made for this list.
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. Still, any Dad willing to drive cross-country to fulfill his effervescent daughter’s pageant dreams is sure to have his own set of oddities. 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.
The beauty of Josh and Benny Safdie’s 2010 Festival film Daddy Longlegs lies in its immensely unsound but well-intentioned protagonist Lenny (Ronald Bronstein), a divorcé and father of two young boys. The film chronicles Lenny’s two weeks with his sons in New York City as he demonstrates an ambivalent parenting style that hovers between ‘friend’ and ‘father.’ Ultimately, Daddy Longlegs captures the essence of the unconditional love that a father bestows to his children, even when it’s in the most peculiar of ways.
Director Jake Schreier tactfully navigates some somber territory in Robot & Frank, managing to infuse the grave realities of dementia with sly humor. Frank Langella plays the titular Frank whose onset of dementia compels his son Hunter (James Marsden) to purchase a robot to care for his father—despite Frank’s obstinacy. But Frank is no dimwitted old-timer content to fade out; in fact, he’s an ex-convict and nimble thief, still sharp enough to coerce his ‘Robot’ into aiding in his heists. As Frank’s culpability comes into question following a diamond raid, he begins to feign illness in order to get Hunter to return. Now the three have the odds stacked against them in covering for Robot and Franks’ criminal exploits. Langella smartly portrays the indelible spirit and wit of a father who is ultimately a good guy, but may do some bad things.