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Parenthood (1989)

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Score: 7/10

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs. 4 min.

Release Date: August 2nd, 1989 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Ron Howard Actors: Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Wiest, Jason Robards, Rick Moranis, Tom Hulce, Martha Plimpton, Keanu Reeves, Harley Jane Kozak, Joaquin Phoenix, Dennis Dugan

A

s a child, Gil loved baseball, but only got to see a game once a year, during which his father payed an usher to look after the boy. Gil (Steve Martin), now 35, reasons that his father’s poor parenting skills were based on a lack of a positive male influence while growing up, thereby treating the concept as an unfulfilling job. But Gil and his wife Karen (Mary Steenburgen) are determined to raise their own three children in a superior fashion. “We’re his parents, we can handle it.” But it’s not going to be easy, as eight year-old Kevin (Jasen Fisher), the eldest child, makes faces at school, revealing an underlying problem of emotional complications; daughter Taylor (Alisan Porter) likes to kiss all the boys; and toddler Justin (Zachary Lavoy) rams things with his head.

Meanwhile, Gil’s sister Helen (Dianne Wiest, in a well-deserved, Academy Award-nominated performance), now divorced, contends with troublemaking, uncommunicative boy Gary (Joaquin Phoenix), as well as teenage daughter Julie (Martha Plimpton), secreting a sexual relationship with punk Tod (Keanu Reeves, who delivers the most poignant line about the licensing requirements to drive and fish but the complete lack of preconditions for parenting). Gil’s other sister Susan (Harley Kozak) and her condescending husband Nathan (Rick Moranis) are raising their tiny daughter Patty (Ivyann Schwan) under the impression that youngsters are like sponges (instructing on Eastern philosophies and complicated math). And Gil’s younger brother Larry (Tom Hulce) is the biggest loser of the bunch, overly dependent on his father (Jason Robards), unable to find a career, stumbling into gambling debt with the wrong people, in need of a place to stay, and carting around a small child named Cool (Alex Burrall).

While predominantly a comedy, featuring moderate slapstick and Martin’s signature quips, “Parenthood” is ultimately an examination of several commonplace familial situations and the frequent hurdles of child-rearing. Plenty of realistic drama makes its way into the slightly exaggerated scenarios. The level of entertainment and humor is largely dependent on possessing an outside perspective, as anyone too close to these circumstances might find uncomfortable truths behind them. Many of the scenes could be defined as sobering.

Solid comedy is nevertheless found from a lightly sarcastic study of assuming the worst in other parents’ kids and criticizing peers’ techniques – outrageously highlighted through fantasy sequences depicting epic successes and extreme failures (with those outcomes measured by the actions of the children). Other observations include the harboring of secrets, overbearing jobs and bosses, pregnancies, unfulfilling sex lives, separations and living arrangements, dating, stay-at-home mothering, lying to the kids, thwarting pessimism, organizing parties, and all manner of marital difficulties. Weighty responsibilities abound, with the misconceptions of shaping youth equally abundant. And the children aren’t immune to hurdles of their own, with cruelty/bullying, sports, schooling, disagreements with adults, and popularity/normalcy interfering with maturation. In the bittersweet end, while wrapping up the disparate but relatable stories, the elderly grandmother (Helen Shaw) imparts the most understandable wisdom, likening the whole ordeal to riding a rollercoaster – which provides chills and thrills simultaneously.

– Mike Massie

 



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