Ron Howard’s Parenthood is over 25 years old, yet it is one of those films that seems to be shown on TV with almost alarming regularity. I guarantee it will be playing on some channel at some point this week. However, its enduring popularity can be explained simply: it is a timeless classic. Funny, insightful, and above all else, it is truthful.
It examines the choices we make – as parent or child – and how they affect our families. It also manages to convey the pain and anxieties of childhood, juxtaposed with the responsibilities, stresses and compromises of parenthood. And it does all this whilst still being funny.
The film tells the story of the multi-generational Buckman family. At the heart of the family, is Gil (Steve Martin) a father of three, who is struggling to balance his high-pressure job with the emotional demands of his family. His sister Helen (Dianne Wiest) is a single mother, trying to raise two teenage kids. Her eldest (Martha Plimpton) is shacking up with drag racer Tod (Keanu Reeves). Her youngest (Joaquin Phoenix) is running around with a bag of porno films. Gil’s other sister Susan, (Harley Kozak) is married to a pompous academic (Rick Moranis) who is trying to mold their three year old into a child genius. Into this mix we also have Gil’s father Frank (Jason Robards) with his very old school approach to parenting. He is the man that Gil is desperately trying not to be. And finally, Gil’s younger brother, Larry (Tom Hulce), the black sheep – a degenerate gambler and liar.
Director Ron Howard handles this vast ensemble with consummate skill. It is perhaps a bit too heavily weighted towards the father/son relationships, but this is to be expected seeing as the writers and director are all male. Despite this, everyone in the cast is given their moment to shine in a running time that still comes in at two hours.
Everyone is fantastic in the film, including the child actors, but the real star turns are Steve Martin, Jason Robards and Dianne “the best thing in everything she’s in” Wiest. The scene where she finds her daughters private photos is a real high point.
As the film goes on it continues to explore serious and sometimes dark material. The cynic in me wonders if the film is asking the question, how much does having children ruin your life? Then on the flipside, how much do parents project their own troubles onto their kids and ruin their lives? As Tod so eloquently puts it, “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.”
Is being a parent really worth all this trouble? Well, the film certainly thinks so, with it’s final “awww wuck at all da wickle baybeez” scene that wraps up the film. Had this film not chosen to end on such a mawkish note it would have been almost perfect.
Cast: Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Wiest, Jason Robards, Keanu Reeves, Martha Plimpton, Rick Moranis Director: Ron Howard Writer: Babaloo Mandel & Lowell Ganz Released By: Fabulous Films Certificate: 15 Duration: 124 mins Release Date: Monday 28th March 2016