My Favorite Movies #24 – Parenthood

Parenthood - Poster 2Parenthood

1989

Directed by Ron Howard

Quick synopsis… Director Ron Howard teams with Steve Martin for a heartwarming comedy about life’s most rewarding occupation: parenthood. Gil (Martin) and Karen Buckman (Mary Steenburgen) are facing the age-old dilemma of trying to raise their children the “right” way. But as Gil and the rest of his clan (including Rick Moranis, Tom Hulce, Jason Robards and Dianne Wiest) soon discover, being the “perfect” parent often means just letting children be themselves.

  • This is kind of a hard movie to follow along with in this format…
  • I mean, it’s a brilliant movie and I firmly believe it should be required viewing for anyone studying family dynamics.
  • But there are about a dozen different plot threads going on at the same time.
  • It’s easy to keep up with when you’re watching it… but trying to do this bullet point thing may be a challenge.
  • I’ll do the best I can.
  • The movie follows the Buckman family.
  • First, we meet Gil (Steve Martin) and his branch of the family tree.
  • He and his wife, Karen (Mary Steenburgen), have three kids and we soon find out there’s a fourth on the way.
  • Gil struggles with balancing a busy career with an increasingly stressful family life, especially when his oldest son, Kevin, exhibits some severe emotional distress at school.
  • Gil’s older sister, Helen (Dianne Wiest), is a divorced mother of two, Julie (Martha Plympton) and Garry (Joaquin Phoenix).
  • Helen’s ex will have nothing to do with their kids, so she’s left to figure out how best to raise them on her own.
  • Julie is an intelligent high school student who has no interest in her studies once she meets Tod (Keanu Reeves), of whom Helen seriously disapproves.
  • But Julie and Tod run away together, get married, get pregnant, and Helen winds up having more respect for Tod than she thought she ever would.
  • Because Tod is there to help Garry…
  • Garry is dealing with puberty.
  • But before we discover that’s what’s going on, he’s very quiet and secretive and refuses to open up to his mother about what’s carrying around in a brown paper bag.
  • When she worries he’s on drugs, she breaks into his bedroom (which he padlocks closed when he leaves), and discovers that the bag contains pornography.
  • Helen determines he needs a man in his life who can talk to him about what he’s going through and Tod is the closest thing to a man in the house.
  • Helen and Gil have a younger sister, Susan (Harley Jane Kozak), who is married to an arrogant scientist named Nathan (Rick Moranis).
  • They have one little girl, Patty, and Susan wants more.
  • But Nathan is convinced that Patty’s cognitive development is more important than Susan’s biological clock and refuses to have a second child until Patty is much older.
  • In the meantime, Patty is only three or four years old and can comprehend the works of Franz Kafka… so there’s that.
  • But Susan can’t get past her misunderstanding with Nathan and decides to leave him.
  • He wins her back in the end by serenading her in her classroom while she’s trying to teach.
  • And then there’s Larry (Tom Hulce)…
  • He’s the youngest of the Buckman clan and is pretty much the black sheep of the family.
  • Larry floats around from place to place, following whatever get rich quick scheme he can get his hands on.
  • He shows up back at home, with a kid named Cool in tow, owing a great deal of gambling debt to some very violent people.
  • Larry and Cool temporarily move in with his parents, Frank (Jason Robards) and Marilyn (Eileen Ryan).
  • Knowing that he is Frank’s favorite kid, Larry tries to manipulate Frank into lending him the money to pay off his debt.
  • None of this goes well…
  • In the end, Frank proposes that Larry stay at home permanently, work for him and learn his business, then take over when he retires.
  • Meanwhile, Frank and Larry would work together to pay down his debt over time.
  • But Larry won’t bite… instead leaving Cool with his parents and chasing down his next money making scheme.
  • All of these plot lines tie together beautifully in an overarching story showing how different parenting styles can have various effects on the way our kids grow up.
  • When Tod shares with Helen all that Garry has been dealing with, he delivers one of my favorite lines from any movie.
  • Helen is lamenting that Garry hasn’t had a father figure in his life and Tod just tells her about his own father, saying that having one around isn’t always the answer.
  • “Well, it depends on the man. I had a man around. He used to wake me up every morning by flicking lit cigarettes at my head. He’d say, “Hey, asshole, get up and make me breakfast.” You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, or drive a car. Hell, you need a license to catch a fish! But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.”
  • I don’t identify with that statement at all… I had a great father.
  • But I still like the line because there’s so much truth to it and it shouldn’t just pertain to men.
  • Anyone can become a parent, whether they’re cut out for it or not.
  • I meant it when I said this should be required viewing for anyone studying family dynamics.
  • I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a heartfelt dramedy that shows some of the best and worst moments that can come with being part of a family.

Everything should be back on track after the A to Z Challenge. Which means we’ll hit the next movie in my Top 100 next week. It’s a romantic comedy directed by Rob Reiner and written by Aaron Sorkin, so you know the dialogue is amazing. It’s all about a widower who is trying to balance his work life with dating a woman he’s recently met. If I tell you what his job is, though, it’ll completely give away the movie. Any guesses?

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