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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dad is a 1989 movie about a career-centered son who returns home to assist his dying father and reconnect with his parents, siblings, and son. The elderly parents -- portrayed by Jack Lemmon and Olympia Dukakis -- are given a dignity and respect not often afforded to the elderly. The movie is a comment on life and death, family, relationships, and what all of this means and what's important in the big picture. The father suffers from the onset of dementia and senility -- his suffering and its impact on his family is rendered in a way that some might find relatable and others might find emotionally difficult to take. Some occasional mild profanity: "s--t," "piss," "goddamn," "hell." It's a tearjerker dramedy written and directed by the creator of the classic 1980s sitcom Family Ties; those familiar with that show will see similarities in style and humor between this movie and some of the more "very special episodes" of that program.
What's the story?
In DAD, John Tremont (Ted Danson) is a perpetually busy and career-centered executive in New York City. In the middle of a meeting, he gets word that his mother, Bette (Olympia Dukakis), suffered a heart attack and is in the hospital. He immediately flies out to his parents' home in Los Angeles, where he quickly comes to realize that his father, Jake (Jack Lemmon), who also isn't in the best of health, seems to have a hard time taking care of himself, especially without Jake's domineering mother around to keep everything in working order. John decides to stay with his father while his mother recuperates, but during this time, his father is diagnosed with cancer and falls into a bout of catatonic dementia and senility in which he believes he is a farmer in rural New Jersey. Meanwhile, John's college-aged son Billy (Ethan Hawke), who has forgone college to live a communal existence in Mexico, has returned to see his grandfather. Now John must also make amends with Billy, who he has rarely seen in recent years due to both the divorce from Billy's mother and John's self-centered focus on his career. After seeming to come out of the senility and dementia, Jake leaves the hospital a new man, determined to make the most of each day -- spry, creative, energetic, curious about the world and everything in it. He knows he doesn't have much longer to live, and even in the midst of still having the delusions of being a farmer in New Jersey, tells John, "Dying's not a sin, not living is." John begins to be inspired by his father's example, and now seeks to make amends with the son, siblings, and parents he had spent so little time with in recent years, and to make up for lost time.
Is it any good?
This is another example of Jack Lemmon's limitless and broad acting talents, but also much more. A tearjerker written and directed by the creator of Family Ties -- those familiar with that classic '80s sitcom will see the similarities in style and story -- Dad fearlessly explores life and death and the meaning of it all, what it means to be a family, the cycle of life, and the ups and downs of relationships. The stresses and difficulties in being a caretaker for a parent is shown in detail, as well as the difficulties in comprehending the onset of dementia and senility in the elderly. And yet, whereas so many elderly characters in movies and TV are little more than stereotypical punch lines lazily tossed out with no respect, this movie brings a dignity, grace, and humor to aging and the aged.
It's an all-star cast -- besides Lemmon, Ted Danson, and Olympia Dukakis, there is a young Ethan Hawke and a mustachioed Kevin Spacey -- who bring the depth, grace, and humor that this story and characters need. They eschew smug cynicism and Hallmark Channel sentimentality for something deeper. Even as the endings to the secondary stories feel a little too conveniently tied up and resolved, it's still a solid movie with universal themes, nearly forgotten decades later, but worth a look.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Dad's themes. How does this movie address life and death, the cycle of life, aging, the challenges and rewards in caring for the elderly, and living each day to the fullest?
The elderly are often portrayed in movies and television in very stereotypical ways. For instance, they are often made out to be so hard of hearing that they give "comic" answers to misheard questions, or they're unable to work or comprehend the latest technological gadget, or they bellow an off-color catchphrase or use a slang term only "the kids" use. How is this movie different? How does this movie manage to remain funny at times without resorting to these cheap and easy stereotypes?
This movie has characters from three different generations at profoundly different stages in their lives. How does it show these stages as well as the commonalities linking the members of this family?
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