I admit. I initially only wanted to watch Dad to see a younger Ethan Hawke. Fifteen minutes into the film, I was bawling my eyes out. This is unusual for me, as I'm not exactly the weepy type and I only usually cry in tearjerkers featuring Old Yeller, Fluke and Free Willy (somehow, animals emote more convincingly).
I thought Dad would be a boring, heartwarming drama, but I pleasantly discovered that it had its share of laughs. This movie is excellently cast and well written. It jars the senses long after you've seen it because it forces you to face things you'd rather not deal with, ever, but will inevitably have to: losing someone you love.
The film opens with a young Jack Lemmon at sunrise, starting work at his ranch with his beautiful, supportive wife and kids. Then, a sequence to establish his present character: an old frail man being taken care of by his overbearing wife (convincingly played by Olympia Dukakis), from dressing him up, putting toothpaste on his toothbrush, to buttering his toast. He accompanies his wife, who drives them both to the grocery, where she gets a heart attack. He helplessly looks on.
While she is temporarily hospitalized, the children worry about their father. The son (Ted Danson) is a successful corporate type, who quickly flies in to see to it that everything's okay. He is met by his brother-in-law (Kevin Spacey), and his sister (Kathy Baker).
The absentee son is shocked to see how much his father has deteriorated, and so spends more time with him out of guilt. He doesn't intend to stay long as he has business to attend to, and so he makes sure that his father can be independent and take care of himself.
Pretty soon, Dukakis is back and is surprised to see her husband up and about. All is well till it's his turn to suddenly get hospitalized. The doctor suspects cancer. Soon, he's in a coma, and the son does everything he can to care for his father. Somewhere in the middle of this, his own son (Ethan Hawke), comes in. He is estranged from his father but is apparently very close to his grandfather.
After what seems like ages, and now in the hands of a more compassionate, competent doctor, the old man wakes up. He celebrates his new lease on life by being more carefree, lively and spontaneous. He has been diagnosed to be a bit schizophrenic, with the film's opening sequence revealing the dream life he's been living in his head to cope with his problems. His family is astonished, but humors him, except for his wife, who openly shows her displeasure at his apparent craziness.
But later on, it is his new zest for life that infects everyone and brings the family together. It helps the old couple open their world to new things and new people at that stage in their life. In the end, cancer does overcome his body, but not his spirit and of those around him.
I like how the movie finishes on a positive yet realistic note, without milking the situation with an embarrassing display of melodrama.
It's a scary thing to watch someone you've always known as strong slowly wither before you. It must have been excruciating for the son to watch his own father not be able to do the things that he used to do, not even dress himself up. This was also painfully illustrated in one scene where the son, angry at the poor treatment his father endured from the first doctor, carries his dad out of the hospital. The father's body appeared so weak and frail in his son's arms. This role reversal a la Pieta comes as quite a shocker, as it disturbs the equilibrium an awful lot.
As the eldest child, I've had the good fortune to enjoy my parents at their prime. I grew up content in the belief that I always had my strong, funny, patient father and my always organized and in-control mother to take care of anything, big or small. And then I aged in years, but still terribly spoiled and immature, while my folks seem to have silently been plateauing.
While my folks have not been as terribly sick as in the movie, the threat of it happening is always there. Dad has been a wake-up call for me to reevaluate what matters most in life and to reallocate my time to doing the things that are truly of value.
Everyone can relate to this film because everyone has parents, or someone they depend on or are close to. There is no big villain to hate or escape from in this film; no unrealistic and complicated plot twists, telenovela-style. Nothing, that is, except the bigger danger of apathy, the silent killer in each of our relationships. Therein lies the true conflict, and the earlier we choose to recognize it and act on it, the better our relationships can be.
Now who would've known such knowledge could stem from a desire to see Ethan Hawke?