The first time I watched Toy Story 2 with my dad, he rose from the couch abruptly to get a glass of water. Jessie, the cowgirl doll, was singing “When She Loved Me,” the bittersweet backstory of her previous owner’s love and the memories they shared, ending with the child outgrowing her and ultimately giving Jessie away to charity in a cardboard box. As I fumbled to pause it so my dad wouldn’t miss anything, I heard a quiet sob from the kitchen. Silence. Then another. I set the remote down; not fully understanding, I let the film keep playing.
While the past few years have helped bring complex and dizzying portraits of women and mothers to the forefront, I am simultaneously and inevitably drawn to the softness and generosity of onscreen father-daughter relationships in 2018. Whether in a tensely-plotted thriller like Searching or A Quiet Place, or a tender, thoughtful character study like Eighth Grade or Leave No Trace, the bond between father and daughter not only helps drive plot, but allows viewers to understand the characters and the ways they acknowledge one another more richly. After all, aren’t love, and paying attention the same thing?