‘Dads’ review: schmaltzy ode to fathers from mega-famous pops

Bryce Dallas Howard's sweet documentary doubles as a thank you to her old man

If you’ve left it too late for Father’s Day, this new Apple TV+ documentary has you covered – a sweet, shmaltzy ode to Dad-hood that feels exactly like opening an oversized Hallmark card.

Back in 1989, acclaimed director Ron Howard made Parenthood. At the time, his family comedy felt honest because it drew from Howard’s own experiences raising his daughter, Bryce, and now more than 30 years later she pays him back with her own take on the ups and downs of having kids. She doesn’t really have much of a point to make, and she doesn’t answer many of the questions she asks, but what she does have is a whole lot of famous friends to help keep things interesting.

Judd Apatow, Jimmy Fallon, Will Smith, Jimmy Kimmel, Hasan Minhaj, Ken Jeong, Patton Oswalt, Neil Patrick Harris, Conan O’Brien, Kenan Thompson and, of course, Ron Howard, all line up to talk about their own experiences. What was their dad like? How did they react when they found out they were having a baby? What was the birth like? What did they do wrong? What did they do right? What makes a great dad? It’s all perfectly lovely, even if it feels suspiciously like a Dove shaving soap advert (which also happens to be sponsoring the film…)

Less funny but more affecting are the real-life stories Howard uses to build the bigger picture – case studies from around the world that add up to something much more powerful than all the screaming/pooing/laughing/embarrassing YouTube clips that are edited around them. There are two adoptive dads struggling to deal with their kids’ repressed traumas from foster care; a guy fighting the awful paternity laws in Brazil; a Japanese dad who bucked the Tokyo salaryman system to be a stay-at-home father; and one amazing story of a guy working 24 hour shifts to try and pay the health care bills for his son’s congenital heart disease.

Dads
Rob Scheer, Reece Scheer and their children in ‘Dads’. Credit: Apple TV+

Howard has been edging closer to her dad’s job for years (taking on the fourth episode of The Mandalorian and making it look impressively like Seven Samurai in space) and her latest effort shows plenty of confidence but not quite enough bite. There are no bad dads in Dads – there are struggling dads, funny dads, brave dads and dads who talk openly about catching a spout of projectile vomit in the face, but there’s an obvious lack of all the rest who probably aren’t doing such a great job. The film briefly touches on absentee fatherhood and workaholic parents (and there’s a slightly awkward moment when all the celebrities try and justify the fact that they haven’t really been around as much as they should have), but otherwise the tone is kept as bright and fluffy as possible.

It’s Father’s Day after all, and this is a celebration of what it means to be the best dad you can be (or, at the very least, to be doing a slightly better job of it than your own dad did). More like a long segment of Sesame Street than a daring social documentary – and more like a private ode to Ron than that – Dads is basically just one big warm, sticky, slightly embarrassing hug for the Howard family that we all get to join in on.

Details

  • Director: Bryce Dallas Howard
  • Starring: Ron Howard, Judd Apatow, Will Smith
  • Released: 19th June 2020 (Apple TV+)
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