Certain cultural coincidences can say a lot about what's on our collective mind. Take, for instance, the new movie, "Delivery Man," starring Vince Vaughan. This is actually the fourth film on the same subject: a man who has unknowingly fathered a few hundred children - thanks to his frequenting a sperm bank in his youth - and who has to deal decades later with those children wishing to know the identity of their biological father.
The 2012 Canadian movie "Starbuck," written by Ken Scott and Martin Pettit and directed by Ken Scott, was the first. It followed the adventures of a 40-something slacker whose life is upended when he has to confront this type of anonymous fatherhood. A couple of months ago, a French movie, "Fonzy," opened. It was an adaptation of "Starbuck," credited to the French writers, but also written by the movie's director Isabelle Doval and its star, José Garcia, who's a big name in France, but not known in North America. The story was basically the same.
An Indian film, "Vicky Donor," loosely based on "Starbuck," was released in 2012. And then, of course, the new movie, "Delivery Man," which was directed by Ken Scott, and written by him and Martin Petit, after their original screenplay for "Starbuck."
Now, Hollywood remakes movies all the time and sometimes France and India even remake American or, in this case, Canadian, films.
What was the resonance of this story about a slacker who has to come to terms with his past actions? It wasn't as if he had done anything illegal - that is, fathering a child with someone whom he abandoned. This was done with anonymity in mind and also, perhaps, for the sperm donor to earn a few bucks.
But the movies address, if somewhat obliquely (these being comedies) the subject of being a father and of fatherhood, of whether one has a moral obligation to recognize that being a biological parent can have greater implications than being a sperm donor would suggest. In our age of genetic testing, DNA ancestry, origin stories, we seem to want to know where we really come from. But we also, perhaps, want to know what it is to take responsibility for the lives of others.
That's the point: living up to what one has done, even something as seemingly innocuous (to a young person) of sperm-bank donations. All actions have consequences, apparently.
The films don't suggest that it was wrong to be a sperm donor. But they question what it means to be a parent, or perhaps, by extension, to be mindful of one's actions in a way that we didn't have to think about before scientific advances gave everyone the tool to trace his genetic lineage.
We're at the beginning of the holiday season, with its emphasis on family, friendship and, for some, a sort of imposed fellowship. These films, made over the course of, say, the last four years, seem to have struck a chord with the filmmakers and actors who made them (I can't speak for the public), about the nature of family, fatherhood and, what else? Oh, being present for the lives of others.
The setup for the film is, of course, one of those perfect elevator pitches: a slacker realizes he's fathered hundreds of kids who want to know who he is. As does he himself.
But these kids are, of course, more than nature: they're nurture, too. It would be interesting to see a film from the viewpoint of parents who benefited from using the services of a sperm bank. That isn't as easy to summarize in an elevator pitch. And that's more to the point of family: being there throughout a child's life, rather than just at the beginning of conception.
But then, that wouldn't be a feel-good comedy, would it? Still, at a time when passing the buck remains a national pastime, and blaming the other guy and considering that someone is an idiot for not agreeing with one's point of view is what passes for political discourse, even a flimsy comedy about sperm-bank donations and fatherhood means that people have a deep desire to consider the question of personal responsibility.