Is there a Dad Prototype?
This is the question I’ve been kicking around for a while after seeing Kevin Costner in a few really well written dad roles. It came back into my consciousness after that Gillette commercial controversy last week.
Playing “the parent” is usually portrayed on-screen as a traumatic life event for actors. Well, insofar as women used to playing anywhere from the 20-something ingenue to the 30-something career woman trying to have it all to the 40-something good wife.
But after that, it’s a leap into playing the mother of an adult child. Traditionally presented as a “yikes” moment for the woman. And, sure…an actor in their 40s or 50s might very well make an argument that they are too young to play parent to a 20-something. It’s valid. Possible enough, though, in real life.
Except…this is Hollywood! It’s anything but real life. In this land, 20-somethings play high school students. The last thing we really want is to see our Young Adult characters leap from the novel to the big screen in an accurate depiction of a gangly, pencil-necked and acne stricken teen.
Let’s get some pulchritude and voluptuousness into these teenage characters! Body issues don’t always happen on their own, best if we give ’em a gentle little shove at the get go, right?
With that in mind, why wouldn’t there be an inversely applied standard to casting parents? Sure, a 45 year old can have a 25 year old child. That’s realistic enough…but maybe less common today than a 25 year old having a parent in their 50s since people weren’t getting married and starting families straight out of high school in the late part of the 20th century. But if we’re going to make high school kids feel bad about looking too young compared to their Hollywood counterparts, it seems only fair that we make their parents feel too old, right?
Hollywood, talk about Chosen Family.
Yet, oddly enough, the one person this doesn’t really negatively affect is the dad actor.
I first noticed this a couple years ago when I checked my own surprise at Kevin Costner showing up as the dad figure in Superman.
Well, Man of Steel.
The movie came out in 2013; making Henry Cavill a 30 year old Superman, Diane Lane his 48 year old mother and Kevin Costner a 58 year old adoptive father. Kinda makes my point right there.
But on a different level, you’ve got this 58 year old actor bringing his gravitas to a well written role, too. He takes the simple living, hard working aw-shucks character and makes him a tough but fair plain spoken dad that is faultless. I’m sure actual dads watching the film envied his ability to be tough and unemotional when dealing with his son, pushing him to his best self and then kind of grateful when he got killed off so they didn’t have to compare themselves to him in any sequels.
Great, he’s faultless and selfless!
Just remember, he only had to be this curmudgeonly hard ass for two hours – and everything was written out for him.
His character would be a tough act to follow, even though real dads pretty much work without a net. For 18 years or more versus 120 minutes.
But who else could have raised Superman?
Flash forward a couple years to Molly’s Game.
And me crying while watching him do dad-ing right for Jessica Chastain in that role.
This time around, though…he plays a flawed character. Sure, in his early scenes – coaching her to Olympic greatness – he’s a hard ass, treating her as a physical equal to her brothers and taking no excuses. Later, they clash over gender roles at the dinner table.
It’s a short role he plays, but it builds in a lot of challenges and inconsistencies to the father-daughter dynamic that go a long way toward shaping his adult daughter, who is the titular character.
Of course, their relationship eroded and eventually totally implodes when she discovers he’s cheated on her mother. They become estranged, but the movie does a good job of making him his daughter’s demon, not just for his flaws, but also for the frustrations she suffered in her Olympic pursuits.
It was really impressive writing. About a true story…so maybe they had a head start on the writing. Still, the vulnerability he showed in admitting his faults while also demonstrating that a decade or so later, when she needed him, he was still there and still knew his daughter better than she knew herself. How his own flaws strengthened him and allowed him to be quietly supportive of his daughter – even after she’d grown away from him and no longer needed him as a coach – and a character role model for his daughter…oof.
But, really, played beautifully by this actor that made me jealous of how good a dad he was. And I don’t even have friggin’ kids! It’s one thing to dismiss a role like Superman’s dad as a fluke. Like I said, he only had to do it for 120 minutes and every word was written for him.
This role, though…it’s based on Molly Bloom’s actual dad. On top of that, it’s based off of the book that Molly Bloom wrote and how she perceived her relationship with her father.
Stepping into a role with that dynamic and crushing it…yeah, maybe that Kevin Costner is the dad everyone wants to be when they grow up.
And maybe it’s characters like his that we need to aspire to in order to become both better men and fathers. Perhaps if those Covington Catholic boys had fathers as well written and acted as Kevin Costner’s dad roles, they could have walked away from controversy.
But no one is making that comparison. So we’re left with a razor blade commercial saying men need to be better and that behaviors we’ve allowed to be ok and dismissed in the past…weren’t, in fact, ok.
Now, who is going to show us the way?