Dads [AFI DOCS Review]

You couldn't ask for a nicer, sweeter movie than Dads. Directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, it's a celebration of fatherhood. The fact that the film was made by a woman proves to be a real advantage, in that Howard has a close relationship with her own dad, Oscar-winner Ron Howard, and therefore approaches the subject from a place of curiosity. She wants to find out what makes a good father just like hers tick, resulting in a project with more depth than you might anticipate.

The occasion for the documentary was learning that her brother Reed was about to become a father for the first time. There are really three types of content here. Some of it focuses on Reed in the days leading up to the birth of his child, and the days right after. That's interspersed with snappy interview segments in which celebrities – Will Smith, Judd Apatow, Conan O'Brien, and, of course, Ron Howard among them – offer their witty perspectives on trying to be a good parent.

By far, the most substantive sections are the much longer ones in which Howard introduces us to average, non-famous American fathers, letting us hang with their families a little bit. There's a stay-at-home dad, a father who saw his infant son go through serious health issues, a same-sex couple in which the dads went the “foster-to-adopt route,” and more. These men talk about their parenting philosophies, as well as how they juggle being fathers with life's other demands (work, relationships, etc.).

Although the components of Dads are varied, they remain united in purpose. The film gets at how the role of fatherhood has evolved in recent times. Fathers are no longer mere providers or disciplinarians; they are friends and confidantes, teachers and mentors, and so much more. Howard comes at it all from a place of positivity, of wanting to pay tribute to the qualities that make someone a good dad. Her sincerity shines through.

Dads is a real feel-good documentary that makes a number of excellent observations about its topic. Many viewers will be inspired to think of their own fathers. At another level, I think men will respond in an especially significant way. As the father of two, I have my own thoughts/feelings on being a dad. Hearing the perspectives of other men offered plenty of food for thought. In that sense, the movie works as a reinforcement of the very ideals it was made to praise.

Being a good man is the most important thing a father can do. Dads gets to the heart of what that entails.

Dads is rated TV-14 for some adult themes and language. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.