The theme of fatherhood is a prominent one in Wes Anderson’s fourth feature film, an avant-garde, oceanographic odyssey brimming with matching red beanies and soulful Bowie covers sung in Portuguese. Maritime explorer, filmmaker, and bad boy, Zissou–and his isle-of-lost-toys crew–are joined on their escapade to kill a ‘Jaguar Shark’ by a young man eager to bond with his estranged, seafaring father. Nautical, neurotic, and niche, their adventures take a dive into an imaginative world, out of which there are several brick-and-mortar, Italian film locations–as opposed to Anderson’s trademark intricate set design–including Naples’ breathtaking San Carlo Theatre, the Torre Astura fort on Nettuno isle, Porto di Ponza, and Rome’s Villa Della Panetteria and Palazzo del Quirinale.
One is never able to predict the shape this film that took home multiple honours at Cannes (including the Palme d’Or), takes after it opens in the Texas desert. A dishevelled man in a red trucker’s hat—a Walter White from a different era—seems to be walking endlessly in no particular direction. Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) embarked upon this escape four years ago, and by now the horrors of the past have crystallized into his eyes. While still in his fugue state, he runs into his younger brother, who convinces him to return home to his seven-year-old son, Hunter. A precocious child, Hunter is observant and watches home movies about his long-missing parents. Reunited with his family, as Travis learns something totally contrary to his own knowledge all along, the father and son embark upon a special adventure, which at its close still leaves viewers teary-eyed.
Director Matt Ross might be better known for his acting roles, but his 2016 feature Captain Fantastic made waves at several film festivals such as Cannes and even bagged actor Viggo Mortensen nominations at the Golden Globes, BAFTA and the Academy Awards. Following the lives of a former left-wing anarchist couple, Ben and Leslie, and their six children, the film is as much a commentary on societal structures as it is on parenting. Leslie, who suffers from bipolar disorder, commits suicide, leaving Ben to raise their children. The six children live with their parents in Washington’s wilderness, far from the ‘American’ way of life and are educated instead according to their parents’ philosophies. When Leslie’s parents decide to hold a traditional funeral for her, Ben decides to make a road trip, with all the kids in tow, to ensure her last wishes, which included cremation and her ashes being flushed down a toilet, are adhered to.
On the road trip, as the children step out into the world for the first time, some obvious gaps in Ben’s home-schooling begin to show, with many of them questioning their parents’ methods for the first time. Ben’s interaction with Leslie’s parents only makes things worse and nearly results in all the children deciding to stay on with their grandparents instead of returning with their father. As much as the viewers are called upon to question the modern, capitalist way of life, along the way, Ben’s complex relationships with his children challenge many concepts of what is considered ‘good parenting’ and whether there is such a thing at all.
Bollywood’s late leading man and a phenomenal performer, Irrfan starred in a number of films with rollicking journeys at their centre. In this 2015 flick by Shoojit Sircar, his character Rana Chaudhary, a taxi operator, turns chauffeur for Deepika Padukone’s high-flying C. R. Park architect and her rackety father (Amitabh Bachchan), troubled with chronic constipation, who need to travel to Kolkata on urgent family business. The trio travel with their house help and Bhaskor’s potty chair perched on top of the car, singing Rabindra Sangeet on the way and indulging in standoffs over trivial arguments. Bachchan, in one of the most striking performances of his long career, plays the nagging septuagenarian dad superbly, complementing equally stellar performances by Padukone and Irrfan.
Burnt-out action star Johnny Mark (Stephen Dorff) can barely muster interest in his adolescent daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) for more than a day. Initially, director Sofia Coppola evokes a wincingly empty picture of Johnny’s Los Angeles life, replete with alcoholic debauchery, inside the legendary Chateau Marmont hotel. When Cleo becomes Johnny’s charge for longer than expected, his absentee-father routine falls apart. Coppola’s film moves in a melancholy haze, establishing the depth of affection between father and daughter over casual video games, an unplanned journey to Italy and quiet evenings back at his preferred hotel. Fatherhood hits Johnny like a ton of bricks but Somewhere ensures the gentlest of landings for its flawed leading man.
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Alexander Payne’s two-hour drama is a father-son road trip from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska in the quest of a million dollars. Bruce Dern, known to have portrayed manic villians and shoddy husbands in the ’60s and ’70s, plays Woody Grant, an alcoholic, senile war-veteran. The film opens with Woody embarking on a 750-mile foot journey to claim his mega sweepstakes prize but his dementia-seeming condition and haggard walk stalls him. His son Davey (Will Forte), finding an opportunity to spend time with his father, takes on the trouble to accompany him on a two-day journey via Hawthorne, Woody’s old hometown where he was always revered as a hero. Small reunions with old friends, ex-business partners and distant relatives start illuminating the gloried past Woody once had only to turn into an extortion ground for his winnings. The black-and-white film captures the dullness of the Midwest but the eeriness is lightened with deadpan humour and hearty laughter.
What is it to be the son of an inventor and outlaw explorer, whose love for distant lands eclipses anything he feels for his family? Paul Theroux’s novel dives right into the psyche of such an overbearing, anti-establishment patriarch. Allie Fox, a Harvard dropout and engineering mastermind, often communicates with his eldest child Charlie, this book’s narrator, in a series of rants—America is doomed, consumerism exemplifies hell, newspapers are “crapsheets” and poor, rural Central Americans are “savages” to be feared and admired. At last, Fox, who yanks his wife and sons from place to place, arbitrarily relocates with them to a Honduran jungle to live among its indigenous community. Theroux’s febrile, literary style leaps off the page, breathing fire into every landscape and anxiously builds up to Charlie’s eventual awakening—that the line between genius and insanity can be dangerously precarious.