With “Parenthood,” film director Ron Howard (“Apollo 13”) managed to do the one thing I wish we could do in real life: make a dysfunctional family funny. This comedy is a great ensemble piece led by Steve Martin (“L.A. Story”) and including Oscar nominees Tom Hulce (“Amadeus”), Jason Robards (“Magnolia”), Rick Moranis (“Honey I shrunk the kids”), Keanu Reeves and a very young actor named Leif Phoenix that we all know as Joaquin Phoenix (“Walk the Line,” Oscar nominee). Now that I think of it, Dianne Wiest won an Oscar for “Bullets over Broadway;” at the time, this movie was a great mix of past talent (Robards), current talent (Reeves) and future talent (Phoenix).
This is a simple movie, with big laughs and true heart. The story is about a Missouri family (but makes no reference to being “country”) and the different stories of the two sisters and their brother Gil (Steve Martin). One of the sisters is Dianne Wiest, a single mom raising two kids and she is dealing with the ropes of raising a teenaged daughter and a boy going through puberty. There are big laughs once you discover “what’s in the bag?” Get the movie to find out what I mean.
Steve Martin is the workaholic dad, raising three kids and his son Kevin needs help, because he isn’t a well adjusted child. The movie also has a great scenes with Steve Martin and Jason Robards (Gil’s father) about being a Dad and generations. The movie is held together by a fantastic script by Lowell and Ganz and Babaloo Mandell, who wrote for “Happy Days” and ended up penning numerous Ron Howard comedies.
In 1989, this movie was a smash hit and became even more known on cable. The end of the ‘80s is when movie channels were the big thing. HBO and Showtime showed nothing but movies and they showed different movies all the time. I love “Weeds” (Showtime) and “Curb your enthusiasm” (HBO), but 20 years ago movie channels were just that; movies around the clock. So “Parenthood” was made at an interesting time. It is a rare film that many people love or have not heard of. I watched it the other night with my mom and we were brought right back to how funny it was 20 years ago. There are very few comedies about life that hold up; most comedies stick around for a joke or a one-liner (aside from the Classics like “The Marx Brothers”) or crude humor. This film is about people. You’ll also enjoy a great pre-Matrix performance by Keanu Reeves.
It was conceived when Ron Howard and his Producing partner Brian Gazer (“Apollo 13”) were traveling with their families to Brazil. Each man had 3-4 kids and was having trouble with all the luggage, carry-ons and needs of their kids, so they got on the plane and said “wouldn’t it be funny to show how crazy it is to be a parent?” The movie tackles everything: Little League, teen pregnancy, father/son issues, sibling issues — all the stuff we universally relate to. This film is such a classic because we’re able to laugh at how ridiculous we are (or our relatives). “Parenthood” will bring tears, but only from laughing so hard. It’s one of Ron Howard’s underrated films because he’s so known to audiences for “Backdraft” or now “The Da Vinci Code” series.
He’s a humble guy, an Oscar winner, a billionaire and still takes out time for younger filmmakers. An associate of mine worked on his film “The Missing” with Tommy Lee Jones. She flew from LA to New Mexico with Howard and said he refused a free first-class upgrade and sat next to her and throughout the 2-hour flight asked her numerous questions about her short film. He was seeking thoughts about her craft; while heading to direct Oscar Winner Tommy Lee Jones. That’s the humility it takes to make a good movie and have the success he does.
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Steve Martin, Dianne Wiest, Keanu Reeves
1) The Paper
5) Night Shift
6) Apollo 13
7) The Dilemma
8) A Beautiful Mind
9) Angels and Demons
10) Far and Away