Ant Man, Southpaw and the Inimitable Father-Daughter Bond

Despite the rapid cultural changes occurring all around us, the unique relationship between a girl and her dad still makes for great storytelling.

By Robert Moeller Published on July 31, 2015

It is easy to grow (and remain) cynical in your attitude toward Hollywood. For those of us who do not share George Clooney’s progressive politics, all of the highly-publicized $25,000-per-plate fundraisers for the DNC can become thoroughly wearisome. For those who are not into comic books, it can feel as if there is no one in Tinsel Town making movies for people like yourself. And for those with any semblance of traditional values left in them, the constant barrage of sensuality (if not outright nudity) leaves most parents at their wits’ end.

However, there are some signposts in Hollywood that can serve as helpful reminders of the eternal truths we rightly work so hard to defend.

In the past week I have seen two movies — Marvel’s Ant Man and the underdog boxing drama Southpaw — that, at their core, convey important messages about personal responsibility, parenting and the unique relationship that exists between a (male) father and (female) daughter.

Both Ant Man and Southpaw are stories about flawed fathers. In the former, the main character (Scott Lang, portrayed by Paul Rudd) is a cat burglar who is “forced” into one more job by the necessity of coming up with the child support funds his ex-wife demands in exchange for getting to spend time with their daughter. In the latter, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a boxing champ named Billy Hope whose wife is murdered, sending him into a downward emotional spiral that eventually causes the state of New York to take his 10-year-old daughter away from him.

Scott Lang and Billy Hope both have their flaws, but both are motivated by the noble cause of protecting and caring for their little girls. And, to add another positive message on top of that, both characters realize along the way that to best care for and instruct their young daughters, they need to first become better men themselves. They need to grow up.

Hollywood producers, screenwriters and directors know the visceral emotions that a well-crafted father-daughter relationship evokes in audiences. Liam Neeson resurrected his fledgling box office career in 2008 by hunting down the men who kidnapped his baby girl in Taken. Last fall’s cosmic blockbuster Interstellar was, ultimately, all about a dad trying to communicate across space and time with his daughter.

And then there’s Steve Martin losing his mind as his only daughter is married off in Father of the Bride.

Regardless of how concerted the effort by activists may be to change perceptions of gender and parental roles, moviegoers still know that there is nothing quite like the love a dad has for his daughter. It cements and solidifies a narrative. It tugs on our heart strings and rallies us to the side of a story’s leading man. It can even help to humanize an otherwise unlikable character if we know that the reason for his treachery stems from threat of harm to his own daughter.

And, it must be said here, that the gender of each party is not inconsequential to the special nature of a father-daughter bond. My relationship with my dad, as great and meaningful as it is, will never look quite the same as the ones he has with each of my three kid sisters. His voice changes. His demeanor changes. A softer tone and bigger smile come over his face when interacting with his little girls. He worries about them in different and deeper ways. I would not say that he loves them more than he does his sons, but only a fool would miss the profound differences in how his love is expressed to them.

Instead of it making my brothers and me jealous, my father’s distinct relationship with our sisters modeled for us something we instinctively knew: these are special creatures and deserve our all.

To their credit, and if only in the stories they tell on the silver screen, even progressive, cynical Hollywood appears to agree.

 

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