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'Dads,' streaming, Apple+

A movie poster is shown for the documentary "Dads," which became available on Apple TV+ June 19, 2020. The 80-minute documentary was directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of filmmaker and actor Ron Howard. (CNS photo/Apple TV+)

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NEW YORK (CNS) -- Sometimes heartwarming but also problematic, "Dads" is actress and filmmaker Bryce Dallas Howard's feature-length directorial debut. Released to coincide with Father's Day, the 81-minute documentary is streaming now on Apple+.

Howard's own dad, actor and director Ron, is one of the celebrities whose commentaries on the blessings and challenges of fatherhood are interspersed with profiles of less well-known parents who reflect at the changing nature of their role in society. Other stars making an appearance include Jimmy Fallon, Conan O'Brien, Will Smith, Ken Jeong and Jimmy Kimmel.

Howard gives a global perspective to her work by introducing dads from cities as distant and culturally distinct from one another as San Diego, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro. She adds a personal note both by interviewing Ron, who also served as a producer, and by following her brother Reed's preparation for becoming a father.

The film is dedicated to Howard's paternal grandfather, Rance, who died in 2017. Archival footage finds him reminiscing about life on the set of "The Andy Griffith Show" during Ron's career a child actor.

The story of Virginian Robert Selby exemplifies at once the positive and disheartening aspects of Howard's work.

The self-sacrificing love for his son, R.J. -- who was born with heart defects -- that drives Selby to work the graveyard shift, attend college classes and still find time for "daddy activities" is moving. And there's an implicit pro-life message to his tale because, as he himself acknowledges, when R.J.'s mother, Chantay Williams, first told him she was pregnant, he wanted no part of fatherhood.

Yet Selby and Williams are not only unmarried but share no emotional bond at all beyond friendship. While that may be, as they maintain it is, a workable arrangement on a practical level, it's obviously defective from a moral viewpoint.

A similar dichotomy can be found in the segment of "Dads" devoted to same-sex couple Rob and Reece Scheer.

Their desire to nurture the four foster children from difficult backgrounds they've taken in is admirable. But the unspoken equivalence Howard establishes between their relationship and the union of the married heterosexuals she includes is contrary to biblical values.

Among the celebrities, moreover, Neil Patrick Harris recounts his and his civil spouse David Burtka's experience of surrogate pregnancy. This is capped off with a tasteless joke.

The Japanese and Brazilian interludes in "Dads" are, by contrast, both ethically uncomplicated and upbeat. And, overall, Howard's intent is clearly well-meaning. Yet, while it may be all about families, this is distinctly not a suitable program for the whole clan.

Along with the dicey elements already referred to, crude language and mature references occasionally crop up. Throw in a brief preoccupation with the scatological difficulties of parenting infants and toddlers and it's clear that only adults, preferably those well-grounded in their faith, should tune in for "Dads."

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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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