In Pretty in Pink, Harry Dean Stanton portrays the on-screen, drunken, unemployed father of Molly Ringwald’s character, Andie Walsh. In spite of the loss of her mother sometime before the film begins, Andie (Ringwald) somehow is able to cobble together a second hand dress and get the rich guy, Blane, played by Andrew McCarthy. Similar portrayals of single fathers can be seen in other films like Runaway Bride. Paul Dooley's character may be the reason Julia Roberts’s character, Maggie Carpenter, has commitment issues. In Must Love Dogs, a shiftless Dermot Mulroney manipulates his way into Diane Lane’s bed. (I can think of worse reasons to employ Machiavellian devices to get close to Diane Lane, but I digress.)
This all got me to thinking, what are the best stories and portrayals of single dads? Here is my list of the Top Ten Films about Single Dads:
Overboard – After Goldie Hawn falls off her yacht and loses her memory, a playfully vengeful Kurt Russell convinces her that she’s his wife and enlists her to keep a home for him and his four boys. The story would be a little creepy if it weren’t a comedy, and besides, who wouldn’t have wanted Goldie Hawn as a pretend wife?
3 Men and a Baby – Tom Selleck, Ted Danson, and Steve Guttenberg were metrosexuals before the word existed. One fathers a child, who is delivered via basket outside their luxury apartment door, and all three become dads.
We Bought A Zoo – Matt Damon’s portrayal of a single father is eerily close to reality in this somewhat embellished “based on a true story” story. "You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage."
The Pursuit of Happyness – Jaden Smith plays the son of his real life father’s character, Chris Gardner, in a story about the lengths to which a father will go to provide a life and future for his child. This very touching film is also based on a true story.
Finding Nemo – A computer animated film about an overprotective clown fish whose son, Nemo, is lost at sea a captured by dentist. (What could be worse?) Nemo loses his mother when a barracuda attacks the nursery. There is a great deal of metaphor in this one.
Signs – A man-of-the-cloth who loses his wife (and his faith) after a freak automobile accident. Mel Gibson’s character protects his children, his brother, and his home during an alien attack.
There Will Be Blood – Daniel Day-Lewis is incredible as self-made oil man, Daniel Plainview, in this film adaptation of the Upton Sinclair novel. “If I have a milkshake, and you have a milkshake . . .”
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee’s novel is better than the film in which Gregory Peck portrays Atticus Finch, one of the most important and influential characters in literary and film history. More than once I’ve asked myself in the context of single fatherhood, “What would Atticus do?”
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Based on the novel by Ian Fleming, yes, the Ian Fleming who created James Bond, and a screenplay by Roald Dahl, yes, the Roald Dahl who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang features Dick Van Dyke as the scatter-brained, Caractacus Potts, Salley Ann Howes as Truly Scrumptious (I’ll bet she was), and a really cool car that I wanted my own dad to build.
Unforgiven – Clint Eastwood wrote, directed, and starred in the story of a former hired gun whose wife passed away and left him with two young children and a pig farm. To provide a future for his kids, William Munny (Eastwood) joins his old friend, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), and “The Schofield Kid” (Jaimz Woolvett) to avenge the attack on a prostitute (back when prostitution was a respected career choice) in a town called Big Whiskey.
So, the next time you see a movie in which a single dad is portrayed as an unemployed alcoholic or a shallow womanizer, don’t think twice about it. You can join Daniel Plainview, Will Munny, and me when we go over and have a talk with the writer of the screenplay. I just hope Atticus Finch is there and cooler heads prevail.