You give up a lot to become a parent.

For instance, as a DINK I’d go to the movies at least once a week, and often two or three times. But now it’s difficult to find a babysitter, yada yada, so we stay in and let Netflix entertainment us. What I like best about this is knowing that if I pick a dud I can go to the queue and bump up an old favorite or balance a dark drama with something light and flashy and I haven’t wasted $18.

Aside from venue, my taste in movies has also changed. I’m still into indies, foreign films and the best mainstream movies, but I’ve given up on gratuitous violence and I’ve started to fold an occasional “family” film into, say, everything with Penelope Cruz.

Last night we watched Dreamer, a movie I wouldn’t have even considered three years ago (except, for certain reasons, that it has Elizabeth Shue and, for completely different reasons, Kris Kristofferson).

I was amazed. This is a movie for parents.

The point of the film, if you watch the extra-feature interview with writer/director John Gatins, is “you love your kids, no matter what,” and it makes that point through several story lines. This movie has depth. It offers legitimate emotion. It takes a familiar story about an underdog horse and a girl and keeps it fresh, makes it relevant. (Did I mention it has Elizabeth Shue?)

I’m not a fan of child actors just because they’re child actors. I saw Dakota Fanning in Man on Fire. She was fine. But she tended to scream a lot. (Her next movie, Hounddog, has drawn a lot of attention.) In Dreamer (Sonador en Espanol), she portrays her character with mature confidence, impish joy and age-defying heart-broken sorrow, and with each emotion you believe her. Her takes with Kristofferson — who was exceptional — are completely organic.

But back to the parenting point. There’s unresolved conflict between the father, played by Kurt Russell, and the grandfather, Kristofferson. Because of that there’s tension between the father and the mother (Shue). And since the daughter (Fanning) worships her grandfather, there’s distance between she and her dad. On top of this, the family’s broke and the mom has to take extra shifts at the diner. Halfway through, a horse (and Elizabeth Shue) brings them all together.

I’m a bit of a sap sometimes, but I have high standards for movie sap, and this one gets it right. When the little girl jumps out of her second-story bedroom window to catch up to her dad so he doesn’t leave her behind, or when she shadows him, trying to get closer, I mean, come on. The grandfather tells his son, figuratively, that all the angst and bitterness have been forgotten. The dad realizes he can be comfortable with his daughter, he doesn’t have to be vulnerable.

Except for the six-figure thoroughbred, what family doesn’t experience these problems? Russell’s a bit stiff, but so would his character be, so are most men when they’re cornered by emotions.

Sure, there’s a Hollywood ending, but I think we’ve come to believe that happy endings only happen on the big screen. I think a lot of us give up too easily during the hard times. There’s a sub-population now of older X-gen parents or young boomer parents, who lived large in college, or extended college benefits well into their late 20s (30s?) then had kids. We’ve had a lot of fun, we’ve indulged ourselves, we’re satisfied with our careers … well, maybe we’re not, but we’ve realized that careers don’t provide the kind of happiness that family does. Some people don’t have to wait, of course, but for those of us who already lived a lifetime before we were 35, there’s a second round that can be even sweeter.

We give up some things, but if we didn’t, we’d never know how great being a parent can be.

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