Release date: May 7th, 2012
Year of production: 1989
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 118 minutes
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel
Cast: Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Wiest, Rick Moranis, Tom Hulce, Harley Jane Kozak, Joaquin Phoenix, Martha Plimpton, Keanu Reeves, Jason Robards
As a kid I remember looking at my parents and thinking to myself; when I grow up I’m gonna do things differently. I guess it’s a universal feeling. We all like to think we’re going to make better parents than our parents were. We’ll understand our children’s needs much better, we’ll make sure we never forget about their school trips and, of course, we’ll get them much cooler birthday presents.
Yet all of that changes once we actually become parents. All those promises we made to ourselves go out the window one by one as we’re dealing with one crisis and trying to avert the next one.
Take Gil Buckman (Steve Martin) for example. He had a rotten childhood and it was all his dad’s fault. Frank (Jason Robards) never paid much attention to him, he’d take him to a baseball game on his birthday and have the user watch him while he went off and did whatever he wanted. He was distant, cold and never showed his feelings.
It made Gil grow up wanting to be everything his father wasn’t. He lives what seems like a perfect suburban life on the outside, but inside it’s a different matter. He works as a sale executive and he just got passed over for a promotion, but his boss insists he can still “dazzle” him if he puts in more hours at the office and less at home.
Gil’s not keen on the idea of working more hours to please his loathsome boss; he needs to be at home as much as he can. His eldest son, Kevin (Jasen Fisher) is about to start seeing a school psychologist for his emotional problems, his youngest son is seems like a few sandwiches short of a picnic and let’s not even start on the daughter. Meanwhile, his wife Karen (Mary Steenburgen) might be pregnant again and it all starts to feel a little too much for Gil.
The family problems don’t end there though. Gil’s got two sisters. Susan (Harley Kozak) is a science teacher whose husband, Nathan (Rick Moranis), insists on grooming their daughter, Patty (Ivyann Schwan), for the path to success. There’s a hilarious scene where we see them lecturing her about her academic work of late.
How’s it going?
I don’t know. Sometimes I feel as though we want it more than she does.
Patty, you know we love you. Could you just give your father that little extra effort he’s looking for?
The camera then turns to Patty and we see her for the first time. She can’t be more than six years old and we realise the absurdity of what her parents doing.
That’s all I ask.
Gil’s other sister, Helen (Dianne Wiest), is divorced and struggling with her unruly teenage daughter Julie (Martha Plimpton) and apparently disturbed son Garry (Joaquin Phoenix). To make matters worse, Frank’s youngest son, Larry (Tom Hulce), returns home after a long absence to dump his gambling debts and illegitimate child on the family while he goes off on another get-rich-quick scheme. After all, Frank did teach the only way to get rich is quick.
It all sounds like a lot to deal with, but Parenthood takes a light-hearted look at the way one extended family deals with the ups and downs of…well, parenthood. From Gil’s neurotic tendencies, to Frank’s distant behaviour and Larry’s avoidance of responsibility we see the men trying their best at what they think is right and sometimes failing their children.
With the opposite sex we see Karen, Susan and Helen – are all different types of mothers – also doing the same thing, with varying degrees of success as well.
As the prospect of being a father for the fourth time starts to sink in, Gil is at first reluctant to go through it all again. He feels as if he’s made a complete mess of his children already, and they’re not even teenagers yet. He’s not a failure though, we see him being supportive, coaching Kevin’s baseball team, spending time with him, talking with him – doing all the things he thinks will matter in this child’s life.
The script is pitch perfect and Martin is his usual charming, funny and bumbling self and he’s got a great supporting cast behind him. Robards plays Frank as a stern and yet fair father and along the way we start to think maybe Gil exaggerated him a bit in his childhood memories. Moranis seems perfectly at home in his character, pushing little Patty to meet all his expectations without realising he’s robbing her of her childhood.
It’s the first time I’ve been able to watch the movie all the way through. As a kid I was immediately packed off to bed after my mother saw the scene where Gil finds Helen’s “ear cleaner” – this was another moment when I promised myself my kids would watch anything with Steve Martin in it.
Parenthood is one of those films that make you remember life doesn’t come with an instruction manual. As kids we know everything, or we think we do, but as we get older and become parents, we realise we know even less. We start to wonder how our parents got through it and then it dawns on us – they did it the same way we’re gonna do it – wing it and just hope we don’t raise serial killers in the process.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .