A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Family Man is a drama centering on a working father with a high-pressure job who has trouble managing his work-life balance. Starring Gerard Butler, the movie explores mature issues such as the too-predictable sex life of a middle-aged couple, the domestic imbalance between spouses (a husband all but ridicules his wife by demanding she get a job using Pinterest, with raising children as her skills), and the cutthroat nature of commission-based careers. Although there are no actual sex scenes, there's a prolonged conversation in which a couple explicitly discusses their sex life, including frequency and positions, while a single man boasts about his high-priced sex worker companion. Language is occasionally quite salty, including "f--k," "s--t" and "d--k." Some viewers may be bothered by the fact that a sick child is used primarily as a catalyst for a healthy adult's emotional development.
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What's the story?
A FAMILY MAN was originally called The Headhunter's Calling -- a title that actually makes more sense in both senses of the word "calling." Gerard Butler plays Dane Jensen, an unethical supervisor in a Chicago executive recruitment firm owned by ruthless, profit-obsessed CEO Ed Blackridge (Willem Dafoe). Although Dane's wife, Elise (Gretchen Mol), and their three kids enjoy their beautiful house in the affluent suburb of Highland Park, everyone misses (and, in the case of Dane's wife, resents) dad's late nights and attachment to his cell phone. When Ed announces his impending decision to step back and name a successor, he forces his two top managers, Dane and the seemingly single and child-free Lynn Vogel (Alison Brie), into a contest to decide who gets the job. It will go to whichever of the pair secures more money for the firm in October, November, and December. But just as Dane readies to dedicate himself even further to his job, his oldest son, Ryan (Max Jenkins), is diagnosed with leukemia.
Is it any good?
Producer-turned-director Mark Williams' predictable drama is melodramatic and unsatisfying thanks to its unlikable, unethical protagonist, who shouldn't need a dying son to become a better man. Compared to cinematic Wall Street boiler rooms and legendary real estate scams, headhunting seems a lot less compelling a field to consider cutthroat. Dafoe's hedonistic boss sets the tone for Dane's Machiavellian nature (Dane routinely sabotages clients' prospects if they're trying to get jobs outside of his firm), but the world of headhunting just doesn't have the same human interest as the salesman in Glengarry Glen Ross stealing folks' entire savings. That aside, Butler's character is just a terrible guy who only comes around when his son is literally on the brink of death. It's a clichéd character arc that reinforces the stereotype that sick and disabled people (particularly kids) exist solely to help healthy people (even parents) have breakthrough realizations about their lives. The best part of the film is Alfred Molina as Lou, a kind-hearted 59-year-old client of Dane's who wants to secure a new engineering job, not realizing that Dane's just using him to help get "placeable" younger clients more prepared for their interviews.
Brie, as a slightly more "by the books" recruiter, doesn't have enough screen time, and Mol is left with little to do but complain about her husband's critical character flaws. At the very least, she does get one "mama bear" scene in which she understandably lashes out at her hospitalized son's teacher for prematurely using his desk as tissue box storage, instead of keeping it ready for the boy's return. Butler overacts, but there are a couple of sweet moments between him and the young actor who plays his son, who loves architecture and is excited to visit the most fascinating buildings in Chicago with his dad. But a few decent scenes can't propel a movie to greatness. While watchable (the production values are polished, the actors notable), this is the sort of drama you might watch on late-night cable or stream while multitasking, not one that you run out to see in theaters.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the messages in A Family Man. What do you think the movie is trying to say about work-life balance, family relationships, and the importance of slowing down to appreciate the people you love?
The disability community has criticized the movie for using the cliché of a sick person serving the purpose of making a healthy person see the error of his ways. Do you agree or disagree? How did that part of the story make you feel?
Do you think Dane redeems himself?
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