Starring: Steve Martin, Tom Hulce, Rick Moranis, Martha Plimpton, Keanu Reeves, Jason Robards, Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Wiest, Dennis Dugan, Harley Jane Kozak, Joaquin Phoenix
Director: Ron Howard
In today’s cinematic climate, the casting of big names is generally done as a gimmick, rather than because, say, the material is actually up to the level of the various actors’ abilities. But the opportunity to revisit “Parenthood” via Universal’s new special edition DVD of the film is a pleasant one, indeed.
Trying to provide an explanation as to who’s related to whom in this film would require a family tree to do it any justice, but let’s at least try to map out the major storylines. First, there’s Gil Buckman (Steve Martin), a guy who was underwhelmed by the parenting skills of his own father (Jason Robards), and is trying desperately to be everything to his son that his own father wasn’t to him. He has a supportive wife (Mary Steenburgen) by his side. There’s Helen Lampkin (Dianne Wiest), a divorced mom who’s trying to raise two children – Julie (Martha Plimpton) and Garry (Joaquin Phoenix) – with absolutely no help from her bastard of an ex-husband. It doesn’t help things that Garry’s going through puberty, and that the closest thing he has to a positive male role model is Julie’s boyfriend, Tod (Keanu Reeves). There’s Nathan (Rick Moranis), who’s trying to raise his daughter to be a super-genius, oblivious to the fact that it’s ruining his relationship with his wife (Harley Jane Kozak). And there’s Larry (Tom Hulce), who’s the black sheep of the family, who’s always looking for a get-rich-quick scheme, but never thinking about the long-term consequences of his actions (like, say, that a one-night stand might result in a son).
On the surface, it sounds like a big mish-mosh of plots that could get confusing. Although Ron Howard was still in the early stages of his career as a director, he deftly handles several major storylines without losing viewer interest in any of them. Gil definitely ends up with more screen time than the others, as he struggles to keep a significant presence at work while coming to the realization that his son, Kevin, might have emotional problems. Beyond his story, however, the best scenes are those between Robards and Hulce, with Robards’ character coming to the painful realization that Larry’s attitude and behavior have arisen from following his father’s advice.
It’s funny -- when “Parenthood” first hit theaters in 1989, I enjoyed it solely on the basis of the blend of comedy and drama within the screenplay, and the way the actors all took their respective material and provided what I perceived to be true, realistic performances. Now, almost 20 years later, I’m a husband and a father, and I realize that it’s even more realistic than I ever could’ve imagined at the time. The ending is the living embodiment of schmaltz, but prior to that, “Parenthood” is a fantastic ensemble comedy that throws in just the right amount of drama and resembles more families than most people would like to admit.
Special Edition DVD Review:
We get three new featurettes with this special edition, each well worth checking out, even if they’re a series of diminishing returns. First up is “Art Imitating Life,” where director Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer and screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babloo Mandel sit down for a new interview. They reminisce about the film from conception to completion and reveal how several of the stories within the screenplay were taken from their real lives. “Family Reunion” isn’t as impressive as you might think, since the title implies that the cast has gotten back together. While we do get several new interviews – Hulce, Plimpton, Steenburgen, Dugan and Kozak all contribute – they’re all done independently. Lastly, “Words and Music” finds Randy Newman sitting down to discuss the process of writing the score for the film. It’s interesting enough, but six minutes is really about as long as you’d care for it to go on. Also included is the original trailer.