/Answers: Our Favorite Movie and TV Parents

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Ben Pearson: George and Lorraine McFly (Back to the Future)

On the surface, Back to the Future might appear to be a story about the time traveling adventures of Doc and Marty, but it’s really about the complete transformation of Crispin Glover’s George McFly. A spineless, desperate kid who’s constantly being taken advantage of by those around him, the sad man George becomes is essentially the same person he was in high school. But inspired by Marty’s interference, George learns the empowering lesson of taking his density – I mean, his destiny – into his own hands and gets a second chance to stand up for himself.

In the first timeline, Lorraine Baines (Lea Thompson) marries George and becomes a repressed alcoholic. Yikes. But as Marty learns in his visit to 1955, the high school version of her is frank about sexuality in a way many female characters aren’t even today. If you put aside the fact that she’s constantly hitting on her own son (give her a break, she doesn’t know!), she’s a terrific character. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd get a ton of credit for this film working as well as it does, but I think Glover and Thompson are its not-so-secret MVPs.

Ethan Anderton: The Old Man and Mrs. Parker (A Christmas Story)

A big reason that A Christmas Story is such a revered holiday classic is because of its authentic portrayal of dysfunctional but ultimately loving Midwestern family. The movie captures all the ups and downs that the family experiences and doesn’t try to hit you over the head with slapstick silliness or saccharine, tender moments like most holiday movies. A big part of that comes from how Ralphie and Randy’s parents are portrayed in the movie.

Melinda Dillon and the late Darren McGavin play Ralphie’s mother and father respectively, the latter referred to as “The Old Man” so much that even his action figure comes with that moniker (yes, there are A Christmas Story action figures). Even if you didn’t grow up in the early 1940s, the Parkers both have traits that will remind anyone of their parents growing up. The way they bicker back and forth over silly things, the way they get on Ralphie and Randy’s cases for doing typical kid stuff, the way they secretly get annoyed by something the other does without blowing up at them, these are things all of our parents have done at some point.

Mr. and Mrs. Parker both get moments where they’re the parents you sometimes hated and feared, such as in the soap scene and the tire-changing scene. But we also see that no matter how much the children at odds with their parents, they were also loved, which is why Ralphie’s mother doesn’t tell The Old Man about him beating up Scut Farkus, and his father gets him the Red Ryder BB gun despite his mother’s infamous claim that he’ll shoot his eye out. They’re the quintessential Midwestern parents, and I just love them.

Jacob Hall: Ray Ferrier (War of the Worlds) and Loy Colton (Near Dark)

Any psychologists in the audience will probably see my pick here and immediately start scribbling notes. After all, I’m using this space set aside for “favorite movie parents” to talk about War of the Worlds‘ Ray Ferrier, an unapologetic deadbeat dad who finds himself forced to protect his kids during an alien invasion and discovers that he’s really not up to the task.

Allow me to get personal for a moment. When I first saw War of the Worlds in theaters on opening day in 2005, my palms starting sweating only a few minutes into the movie, long before the alien tripods arrived and started decimating humanity. My heart started beating faster as soon as we met Tom Cruise’s Ray, the charming-but-immature father who doesn’t know how to even talk to his son and daughter, who are dropped off by his ex-wife in the film’s opening moments. Most “bad dads” in the movies are exaggerations, cartoon characters whose flaws exist only to be overcome over the course of a grand adventure, but not Ray. Cruise has always been a reliable onscreen presence, but this is one of his great unsung performances. This is a surprisingly nuanced portrait of a dad who doesn’t give a shit and doesn’t seem all that compelled to start anytime soon. His cruelties are casual and mundane, his poor parental choices the result of a boyish selfishness that he has failed to discard with age. I’ve never seen a more realistic deadbeat dad on screen and no film performance has ever given me such uncomfortable flashbacks to my own father, a man who clearly loved his children but had zero interest in being a father in any way, shape or form.

War of the Worlds, one of Steven Spielberg’s most underrated movies, understands that an invasion from outer space isn’t going instantly transform Ray into a good dad – it’s only going to further highlight his deficiencies. You can totally see why Ray was married and why he had children. He’s handsome. He’s fun. He’s sometimes very entertaining. But when things start to get very bad very quickly in War of the Worlds, he barely even rises to the occasion. His fathering never improves. It only becomes more desperate. It’s telling that the movie ends with him leaving his kids with his ex-wife. Even after barely surviving an alien assault, he’s not prepared to be a father.

For a brief counterbalance, I’ll also throw in Loy Colton from Kathryn Bigelow’s tremendous Near Dark, a father who seeks out his missing son, learns that he’s joined a troupe of wandering vampire outlaws, and takes him back into his home, no questions asked, when things get truly dire. The film never lingers on this aspect of the character or makes a huge point of it, but it’s always stuck with me – being a dad means curing your son of his vampirism and letting him recover in your home without judgment.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 - Kurt Russell as Ego the Living Planet

What do you think of our picks? Who are your favorite movie or TV parents?? Talk about it in the comments below or email your personal answer (a paragraph or more) to slashfilmpitches@gmail.com with the subject title “Movie or TV Parents.” Our favorite responses will be featured on the site in a future post!

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