Writer-director Brad J. Silverman’s “Selfie Dad” is a pleasantly predictable faith-based dramedy that has been scheduled and marketed for family viewing over Father’s Day weekend on VOD platforms. As it turns out, however, the timing of its release might actually serve to expand the film’s appeal slightly beyond the usual target audience for similar fare. Indeed, in the context of recent real-life events and Black Lives Matter protests, certain elements of Silverman’s narrative give his film, if only inadvertently, a slightly sharper edge than even he likely intended.
Christian standup comic Michael Jr. plays, credibly and creditably, Ben Marcus, an editor at an Los Angeles production house who, several years earlier, walked away from a promising career as a comedian. The movie begins with a snippet from one of his decades-earlier routines, in which Ben, a Black man, recalls how easily he rattled an older white woman jogger who saw him running behind her. It’s a funny moment, but also a slightly unsettling one. Especially now.
Shortly afterwards, we see how Ben, a thoroughgoing professional who’s been nominated for awards in his field, is routinely degraded by Rosie (almost too convincingly played by Chonda Pierce), the conspicuously Caucasian host of a how-to cable series — “Rosie’s Roses,” aimed at amateur horticulturalists — whose sweetly drawling demeanor on camera is in marked contrast to the intensity of her involvement in the editing room. The caricature is a well-aimed shot at an easy target — did someone say Paula Deen? — but some viewers may cringe rather than laugh, given the harpy’s strong resemblance to so many entitled white women recently caught ranting by bystanders wielding phone cameras.
And then, much later, there’s a scene where Ben is pulled over by a traffic cop. He reflexively fears the worst, and even sets up his cellphone to record any possibly violent exchange. It’s played as a joke, but, well…
Please don’t misunderstand. “Selfie Dad” is by no means a cluelessly obtuse comedy that has been made to look worse because real-life events have provided a new context (like the 1970 release of the silly campus protest comedy “Getting Straight” just weeks after the Kent State killings). Rather, Silverman has placed, beneath all the funny business, some well-observed truths. It’s just that, right now, those truths may be, well, more than a tad distracting from the story Silverman set out to tell.
That story, of course, follows an arc traversed by quite a few other faith-based movies. Silverman is sly enough to include a kinda-sorta meta comment on the genre in which he’s working: After a wink-wink, nudge-nudge reference to “The War Room,” a character pointedly remarks, “I really don’t like Christian films!” But he’s more than willing to take several pages from the same playbook, as Ben — who starts out as a lukewarm believer, at best — becomes more dedicated in his devotion.
Through a series of fortuitous happenstances (or, if you prefer, as a result of grinding plot mechanics), Ben returns to his standup roots while posting viral videos in which he attempts, and comically fails, to carry out various home repairs. To fully enjoy, or at least believe, this phenomenon, you must believe that, even though he is a media professional, he (a) doesn’t know the difference between selfies and videos, and (b) has heretofore been ignorant of YouTube — or, as it is identified here, doubtless after consultation with lawyers, UTOO.
But never mind: With a little help from his precocious, and social media-savvy, young son (Jalon Christian), Ben amasses a sufficiently huge online following to land a deep-pocketed commercial sponsor — and attract the interest of a website executive (Shelley Dennis) who has, ahem, interfacing on her mind.
The turnabout arrives when Ben, shaken by the wayward behavior of his young daughter (Shelby Simmons) and inspired by an I.T.-smart divinity student (Johnny Pacar), slips into his latest skit recommendations for Bible study. His sponsor disapproves, his online following decreases and, in one of the film’s cleverest touches, even Jesse (Dahlia Waingort), Ben’s deeply religious wife, frantically suggests that he should delete the new post, for fear of risking their new source of income. But, not surprisingly, none of that seriously impedes happily-ever-aftering.
This isn’t the first time Silverman has confronted the alternating currents of the sacred and the profane in show business. In “Grace Unplugged” (2013), he focused on a young Christian singer’s flirtation with secular stardom. (Like Ben here, the singer had major daddy issues.) But while that film felt marginally more believable in its specific details — Ben, a showbiz pro, evidently has never heard of a musical called “Grease” — “Selfie Dad” is overall a more emotional and satisfying piece of work. In fact, it probably will continue to entertain family audiences long after Father’s Day. Will it also be viewed years from now as, for better or worse, a snapshot of the zeitgeist? Time will tell.