Apple TV+ secured another handsomely produced, blandly pleasant, absolute mediocrity when it purchased Bryce Dallas Howard’s feature documentary debut, Dads. What’s Dads about, you ask? Why dads, of course. Next question.
Up until now, Apple TV+ hasn’t been the most cautious content provider. Apple execs lavished money on a lot of utter nonsense with enormous price tags because they seemed to aesthetically fit in with the rest of the company’s design scheme. Home, Central Park, See — none of them are good television, but they’d look good testing TVs on a showroom floor, which seems to be the prevailing ethos for a lot of the Apple TV+ purchases.
Dads, released Friday just in time to remind you to forget Father’s Day, is much the same and quite a bit less.
“What made you decide to do this?” asks one of director Howard’s celebrity guests early in the proceedings. These men — including Kenan Thompson, Jimmy Fallon, Conan O’Brien, Will Smith and her father, Ron Howard — have been gathered to talk about what fatherhood is and what it means to them. They don’t really come up with a coherent definition because it’s a ridiculously broad topic. It’s not much of an impetus for a five-minute YouTube video, let alone a feature film.
The director talks a little about how her brother Reed is about to become a dad, so she’s running a little interference for him to get some famous people’s perspective. But then most of the movie is about slightly less famous dads like Glen Henry, Shuichi Sakuma, Thiago Queiroz, Robert Selby and Rob and Reece Scheer, who became notable publicly for their parenting styles.
Several of the interviewees run their own web channels or podcasts about their fatherhood adventures. And what do they have to tell us? What wisdom do all these men have to impart? Fatherhood is hard, there are no rules, and you should be a good dad when you can. Mmmkay…?
First, I’ll jog your memory and say a dad … is not a mom
Look, if I may fully put my biases on the table, I like Bryce Dallas Howard. A little backstory: I was an extra in the M. Night Shyamalan movie The Village as a kid, and fell in love with her on-set. I have watched Spider-Man 3, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, one Twilight movie, two Jurassic World movies, Pete’s Dragon and The Help because I simply cannot seem to reach the limit of my affection for her as an extremely charismatic performer.
I’ve watched for more than a decade now as she’s gotten some of the very worst roles in some of the very worst films of our age because I find her magnetic. For the most part, she acquits herself admirably on-screen, even when handed the most bloated and reprehensible writing penned in my lifetime.
In short, I was as primed as absolutely anybody could be to watch and maybe even like Dads. And it brings me no joy to say that Dads isn’t even a movie. It’s a hastily and carelessly assembled puff piece about men with money finding it in themselves to raise children they can afford to feed.
Why, oh why, Bryce Dallas Howard decided to make a several-million-dollar tribute to fatherhood as a bland and photogenic collection of precious memories, at the center of which sits her own beatific father, is simply beyond comprehension.
Overstating the obvious
Who needs this? Who needs proof that rich guys make decent fathers? They have time and money — of course they do! I had a great dad and even I wish I could have been raised by Ron Howard some days! Because then I’d be rich, too!
The only part of Dads I didn’t resent was when Ron Howard’s famously stone-faced character actor father Rance Howard holds court for a few spellbinding minutes. Rance isn’t a very public figure, so watching him recall chaperoning Ron on his earliest gig as a child actor was just heartbreaking in all the right ways.
The movie could have used a little more of that sort of perspective that only one father could give. I would have liked a straight-up tribute to Bryce Dallas Howard’s dad specifically (he’s made a couple of interesting movies in his day), or even the whole Howard family, more than Dads, which takes 80 minutes across several countries to say nothing in particular.
There is quite simply no excuse to foist the sight of Jimmy Fallon calling himself a hero for being a dad on the American public. We’ve been through enough this year.
Watch on: Apple TV+ (subscription required)
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.