“Dads” is a heartfelt and humorous documentary that celebrates the joys and challenges of parenting in today’s world. Featuring six extraordinary fathers from across the globe, this film offers a firsthand glimpse into the trials and tribulations of modern-day parenting through revealing interviews, rare home-movie footage, viral videos, and hilarious and thoughtful testimonials from some of Hollywood’s funniest celebrities, including Judd Apatow, Jimmy Fallon, Neil Patrick Harris, Ron Howard, Ken Jeong, Jimmy Kimmel, Hasan Minhaj, Conan O’Brien, Patton Oswalt, Will Smith and more. Making her feature directorial debut, Bryce Dallas Howard also offers an intimate look at the dads in her own family, including remarkable interviews with her late grandfather Rance, her father Ron and her brother Reed.
In the time of adversity (and corona), it has become imperative that the factual entertainment provided to us, occasionally transcends real-world trauma and immerses us into a world of just plain happy. Granted that watching a bunch of celebrities doing gags on zoom, or getting together to sing a song, or even hosting segments about generally ‘happy things,’ seems a bit trivial. But perhaps it is necessary to provide some semblance of joy. The Apple TV+ documentary, Dads, adds itself to that positivity canon. Directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, the film combines three styles of filmmaking - a retrospective by Howard and her brother as the children of the famous Howard family; some hilarious anecdotes from notable celebrities (who happen to be dads); and some moving and inspirational real-life stories of dads who pushed the limits to create good examples for fatherhood. While we certainly don’t need proof that dads can be… well, good dads, it’s a timely reminder that there are some good ones around, and they are certainly worth appreciating.
What allows Dads to be more than just a congratulatory video for some rich celebrities patting themselves on the back for being good fathers, is that it strikes a good balance between the real-world stories of notable men who inspire us - the gay couple who foster orphans, a loving Japanese father, a stay-at-home vlogger who does better by himself and his partner, amongst others. In the middle, we have some hilarious anecdotes from the likes of Jimmy Fallon (like when his daughter vomited in his mouth) or Will Smith (who realised that fatherhood comes with no instruction manual, while a new television does) which help to keep things light-hearted when they get too sentimental. And sentimental they do, as some of them recall the place their own father played while they grew up. Hassan Minhaj talks about how his father’s stereotypically strict behaviour was instrumental in his success, and Neil Patrick Harris recalled how his dad was a ‘good’ one.
All of this is interspersed with Howard’s own exploration of her childhood. As her brother awaits the birth of his baby, the siblings talk extensively about what it meant growing up as the children of renowned actor-filmmaker Ron Howard and his wife, Cheryl Alley. Perhaps the only weird part of their childhood is their intrusive birthing videos but overall, the Howards (including grand-dad) just come across as an enthusiastic joyful bunch where the men accepted their new role.
To a certain extent, the real-life stories also help in shedding some light on what it means to be a dad in the modern world. But to give credit to the famous fathers, there seem to be some genuine moments of fear and guilt, perhaps to show that ‘hey, they’re just like anybody else.’ The film uses a raw and real editing technique, and should most definitely resonate to parents, and children who are close to their dad, no matter what part of the film you’re watching. It won’t tell you anything new, but it will still be nice to hear about some nice dads.
On the flip side, one can argue that while Dads certainly remains heart-warming due to its subject matter, its lens doesn’t truly go beyond the privileged and elite bubble of dads who can be there for their kids. Because what about those who can’t? Those dads who work too hard, those who aren’t around, those with other families, those who are emotionally detached but still fiercely protective, or those who just aren’t ready? At the end of the day, there is something unnerving about celebrities patting themselves on the back for just… doing their job. It may seem like a PR-engineered fluff piece in parts and that’s because, in some ways, it really is. What about the other dads?! A wholesome perspective to what Dads seek to establish is certainly lacking, but it certainly doesn’t diminish the value of good people who reap the benefit of their good deeds by enjoying the positive side of fatherhood.
Do I recommend it?
Sure! Dads have more issues getting out of its myopia. But as I said, any sincere effort to make us happier these days is very much appreciated.