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The Buckman family attempts to raise their children the best they can; enduring all the trappings that come along with “parenthood” in the meantime. Meanwhile, estranged relatives, notorious trouble makers and eccentrics, and of course, dark secrets from the past come out in the dynamics of raising two rebellious teenagers in modern day America.
The cast includes: Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Wiest, Jason Robards, Rick Moranis, Tom Hulce, Keanu Reeves, Harley Jane Kozak, Martha Plimpton, Helen Shaw, Joaquin Phoenix, Jasen Fisher, and Eileen Ryan.
Screenplay by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel.
Directed by Ron Howard.
This brilliant screenplay, by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, effortlessly transitions from family to family, intertwining the stories, with a perfect mingling of comedy and drama, culminating in an emotionally satisfying ending, thanks to the flawless direction of Ron Howard. Some consider PARENTHOOD a chick flick, but it really does appeal to parents, those who work with children, or those who are interested in family relationships and dynamics.
Throughout the screenplay, the lives of the characters are changed as they themselves make realizations about their own behavior, by experiencing interactions with family members. These realizations transform their thinking, allowing them to make different choices and develop more enlightened attitudes. All this personal growth helps them to evolve as human beings, which improves their various situations and relationships.
This often hilarious yet poignant film brings to light the joys, tribulations and struggles of four branches of the Buckman family, as they strive to raise their children to the best of their ability, with different styles, in different situations, and at different times of their lives. The patriarch of the family is Frank Buckman (Jason Robards), who with his wife managed to raise 3 of their kids, (Gil, Helen & Susan) to be responsible adults, despite the fact that he, in the past, was a neglectful father, due to his work, and an inability to relate emotionally with his kids, due to scars he received in his own childhood. His troublesome 4th kid, the youngest son, Larry (Tom Hulce), has turned out to be the black sheep of the family, who besides having a gambling problem, always is working on an "enormal" get-rich quick scheme. He periodically resurfaces to borrow money for his newest business venture.
The central character, Gil Buckman (Steve Martin) Frank's eldest son, is married to a lovely, caring, stay at home Mom, Karen (Mary Steenburgen). Gil is a devoted father, determined to give his children the attention he feels he didn't get from his father. The opening scenes are a flashback to a baseball game that the boy Gil and his Dad went to every year on Gil's birthday. His Dad left him in care of a stadium usher, while he went to a meeting. He got back by the end of the game to pick up Gil.
Karen and Gil have three children; an 8 yr. old son, Kevin (Jasen Fisher), a 6 year old daughter, Tyler (Alisan Porter), and a 2 year old son, Justin (Zachary Laroy). While Tyler and Justin are happy, well-adjusted kids, Kevin is a very emotionally tense little boy, who has trouble coping with school, challenges, and tension-filled situations, like playing baseball on a team Gil coaches.
Gil's middle sister, Helen (Dianne Wiest) is still reeling from a divorce from her ex-husband, and is trying to raise two teenage children the best she can. Both teens are hurting because their father gives them no attention, as he has remarried and has started a new family, and wants to move on without them. Helen's 17 year old, Julie (Martha Plimpton), has turned her need for her father into a romance with a low-class boyfriend, Todd (Keanu Reeves), that Helen doesn't like, as Helen is focused on getting her daughter into a good college. Helen's 14 year old, Gary (Joaquin Phoenix), is emotionally hurting and tied up in knots, as he really wants his father back in his life.
Gil's younger sister, Susan (Harley Jane Kozak), married a controlling man, Nathan (Rick Moranis), who has definite ideas on how they will live, what they will eat, and how they will raise their children, who will be five years apart, period. Firmly believing in aggressive, advanced early childhood education, Nathan drills their precocious 4 year old, Patty, (Ivyann Schwan), on advanced math, reading, martial arts, languages, etc. Consequently, she doesn't know how to play or relate to other kids. This realization, as well as other truths about her marriage slowly dawn on Susan who then must make some decisions, which in the end, have the possibility of causing positive changes.
Then, there is good-natured Grandma (Helen Shaw), who is moved around to the various families to live, when Larry and his son arrive on the scene. She has the attitude that life is a roller-coaster, full of thrills, highs and lows, and she rolls with the punches, having fun wherever she is taken, despite the attitudes that swirl around her. "I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it. I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together!"
How all these stories intermingle and come together in the end, is truly entertaining, and very well done, thanks to a dynamite screenplay, gifted direction by Ron Howard, and a talented cast. The twists and turns of the ending of the film are not to be missed!
Randy Newman's musical score is also wonderful,and adds much to the film.
What a dynamite cast! The rich script gives the cast plenty to work with, as they skillfully dramatize the ups and downs of parenting, being in a family, and work through their personal weaknesses and struggles that come with relationships and family life. Every character's strengths and faults are on display for study, making this film an interesting portrayal of human nature, which shines through the efforts of the talented and inspired cast members who know how to do ensemble work as well.
Steve Martin gives the audience one of the best performances of his life, and should've been nominated for an Oscar. His ability to mix humor with drama is quite amazing, as he struggles to find ways to try to help his troubled son, Kevin. Gil also is trying to work through his own weaknesses, and his own problems with his father. In the outside world, he struggles with the hypocrisy existing in his workplace, as he shoots for a promotion. Gil is a dedicated family man, and keeps a healthy balance between work and his family. Consequently, he is passed over for promotion because another fellow work-a-holic associate, without a family, is willing to put in the long hours and wows the clients with fancy dinners, etc that the boss wants, which puts Gil in a personal pickle.
A favorite funny sequence of Steve Martin scenes takes place at Kevin's 9th birthday party, a huge event. A much sought after kid entertainer, Cowboy Dan, was supposed to show up. Instead, a stripper was sent by accident. So, because of the mix-up, Gil dresses up as a cowboy, gives a hysterical performance and is the hit of the party, coming to the rescue once again.
Mary Steenburgen does a great job as Karen, Gil's supportive wife who tries her best to help Gil work through his personal dilemmas and work with him to find ways to help Kevin. She always offers a listening hear to the rest of his family's various troubles. Thinking seriously about going back to work when Justin starts pre-school full time, her plans are put on hold when she discovers she is pregnant which comes at a bad moment for Gil, causing a problem in their relationship.
Mary Steenburgen and Steve Martin have terrific on screen rapport, as a functional couple. My favorite scene of them together is when they go to see the principal of Kevin's school, Barbara Rice (Isabelle Cooley), who wants to talk to them about their son, Kevin. The principal informs them that they all need to be careful about their son's education, and states that his behavioral problems were too disruptive to his class this year, causing his class to finish the school year behind in subjects. It seems that Kevin takes up too much of the teacher's attention, and that it wasn't fair. She then ushers in the school psychologist, Dr. Jeffrey Lucas (Greg Gerard), who thinks Kevin should go to a "special school" next year, where his needs can be taken care of. Gil and Karen's reactions toward each other and to this revelation are both terribly funny and dramatic at the same time.
Dianne Wiest, as Helen, earned an academy award nomination. She excels as a divorced Mom with her hands full, working full time, and trying to do her best at parenting her troubled kids. Helen discovers that Julie and Todd had been making love in Julie's bedroom, when Helen accidentally picked up Julie's pictures at the photo booth. A big fight that is both humorous and dramatic ensues and Julie secretly elopes with Todd, but comes home after their first fight. Todd winds up moving in with Julie and Helen and Gary.
Helen's other big worry is her son, Gary, who barely speaks to anyone. Thinking that Gary may be on drugs, she breaks the lock on his bedroom door, and looks in his closet and finds porno tapes. "I guess you are interested in sex or movie making." Todd is able to step in and help Gary, but it isn't the same thing as having a Dad.
When Tod moves in with them, Gary decides that he wants to go and live with his Dad, Dr. Lampkin, who he doesn't know at all anymore. The most heart breaking moment is when Gary (Joaquin Phoenix) calls his Dad on the phone, asking the good doctor if he could come live or visit. When his father coldly turns down his request, Gary's face shows that he is emotionally crushed, a powerful performance by Phoenix that breaks the audience's hearts.
Rick Moranis as Nathan gives a brilliant performance as the puffed-up, annoying super-parent who is obsessed with the education and future of his little girl, being in control of his family, and who says things like this to Gil: "It,s too late for Kevin and Tyler. Why don't you work on Justin?" Or, to Karen, Nathan quips, "My, how proud you must be," upon seeing Justin ramming into walls with a trash can on his head.
Another favorite scene with Rick Moranis, is when he shows up in his wife's classroom, and begins to fervently sing slightly off key, the Carpenter's song, "Close To You," a popular song in the 1970's, after Susan had left him.
Tom Hulce, as Larry, does a very convincing job portraying the wayward, manipulating, self-seeking Larry, who is very capable of conning his parents into supporting his ill-fated life style and schemes to get rich quick. During a big family dinner, Larry shows up, with his own African-American son in tow, Cool, the result of a relationship with a Los Vegas showgirl. His surprise visit brings much to joy to his parents, and the annoyance and disdain of his older siblings who realized the truth about him a long time ago. During dinner, he talks about his allegedly newest business venture, hoping to borrow money from someone. The plot thickens.
Jason Robards gives a heart-felt performance as
a father who wants to think the best about his younger son, but
slowly begins to realize the truth as he sees for himself the
telling evidence that his son has big character problems and definite
weaknesses. He has to make a decision as how to best help this
son get himself straightened out, coming up with a plan. When
the inevitable happens, Jason is deeply disappointed and demoralized,
as any parent would be, as they see a child make yet another bad
choice, and are powerless to stop them. Another favorite scene
is at the end, where Jason Robards answers the question of Larry's
son, Cool, "Is Daddy coming back?" Jason: "No."
More is communicated in this response because of Robards, delivery,
timing and acting ability.
Robards gives Gil the following advice: "There are no guarantees in being a parent. You cannot guarantee that you'll raise your children into perfect adults. You just go out there and do the best for your children."