Happy June! Since it is my birth month, I am being self-indulgent and writing about all of my favourite movies. For some of the more well-known movies out there, I will be mostly reflecting on the why it is one of my favourites, as opposed to the usual format of a plot rundown and a wee little bit of reflection. Not all of my favourite movies are classics – some fall into the guilty pleasure category – but whatever. It’s my birthday month, deal with it. OK, disclaimer out of the way, let us begin…
#332: Parenthood (1989). When I first started this blog, I started with the Ron Howard movie The Paper, stating that Ron Howard really does his best with ensemble, character driven stories. This is no exception, and in fact may be the best example of this. I love this movie, and am psyched to be writing about it for this, but damn there are a lot of people and a lot going on here. So, let’s get started, shall we?
Karen Buckman: Played by the lovely Mary Steenburgen. Karen is married to Gil, and is the heart of the film. She is the seemingly perfect mom, but she has her bad days, too. She just keeps on pushing through them with grace and poise.
Helen Buckman: Played by Dianne Wiest. Helen is Gil’s sister. She’s a single mom having to deal with a surly teenage daughter, a monosyllabic son, and a less than desirable son in law. She is stressed to the hilt, but loves her children a lot, and it shows.
Julie Buckman: Played by Martha Plimpton. Julie is Helen’s surly teenager. She has a lot of angst, and is “deeply in looooove” with her boyfriend, so much so that they get married. She eventually starts to come around a little, but can be very overbearing and doesn’t handle the stress as well as her mom.
Garry Buckman-Lampkin: Played by Juaquin Phoenex (at the time, he went by Leaf). At first, he just kind of lurks around, has a padlock on his bedroom door, and an ever-present brown paper bag with him. Is he into drugs? Turns out no, but he also just really needs a man around the house. He misses his dad.
Tod Higgins: Played by Keanu Reeves. Tod is, at first glance, Ted from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. But there is more to him than that, and actually Keanu plays him very nice and subtle at times. He is married to Julie, and manages to make her mom like him by the end. He also becomes a good male role model for Garry.
Susan Huffner: Played by Harley Jane Kozac. Susan is Gil’s sister, and Nathan’s wife. She goes along with all of Nathan’s crazy, but is starting to get more and more frustrated. She’s a tough cookie, and a smart one, too. She also has a fun side to her, and is a pretty decent human being. Harley really sells it beautifully, and is a real treat to watch.
Larry Buckman: Played by Tom Hulce. Larry is the baby of the Buckman family. He’s all about making it big quickly, and always gets a pass from his dad. He shows up with a son named Cool, the product of a one-night fling with a showgirl in Vegas. His dad tries to teach him a few important life lessons, but poor Larry never learns.
Frank Buckman: Played by Jason Robards. He is the Patriarch of the Buckman clan, and he’s an old-school tough guy. Jason Robards is just so freaking brilliant, I can’t even… Anyway, he’s tough on all of his kids (except for Larry) and interferes the most with Gil and his parenting skills. He means well, he loves his family, but he realizes by the end that he never did Larry any favors by cutting him yards of slack, and that maybe he should lighten up a little with Gil.
Marilyn Buckman: Played by Eileen Ryan. A pretty thankless role, here. She’s married to Frank, and pretty much just looks after Cool and keeps pretty quiet. But there is some affection between her and Frank – just not a whole heck of a lot.
Wow. OK. Ummm… time for a stretch, because this is gonna be a doozy.
I have been trying to keep up with this movie, but it moves pretty fast, and there is so much going on. So, here is a slightly condensed rundown:
The movie’s main focus is on Gil and Karen’s family. Their oldest, Kevin, has some issues. He’s neurotic and high-stressed. Wonder where he gets it from? Gil is so obsessed with having happy, confident, well-adjusted kids that he feels like a major failure as a parent because he passed all his crazy genes down to one kid. The other kids are pretty normal, even the youngest (who is adorable) who likes to butt things with his head and put random stuff in his mouth. You say weird, I say normal 4 year old.
Karen puts up with a lot, and keeps her cool most of the time. Mary Steenburgen just knocks it out of the park with this performance. She exudes warmth and love and light, and is just beautiful and radiant. Anyway, she just wants her family to be happy and together, and likes being a stay at home mom. A rare thing these days, and refreshing, to be honest. She has a lot on her plate throughout, what with her crazed husband and son. She finds out towards the end that she is pregnant again, and wants to keep the baby, despite the insanity of their family already. Gil isn’t so sure, but finally decides to enjoy the ride on the roller coaster of life. His family is not perfect, but they are a lovable chaos.
Over at the casa de dysfunction, we have Helen and her family. There’s Garry, who just walks through scenes with his brown paper bag, Julie who is kind of a bitch, but then again she’s 17, so ok, and Tod, Julie’s boyfriend-turned-husband. Poor Helen has a jerk of an ex who won’t spend any time with the kids, leaving her to do all the heavy lifting. She has no life of her own, and works hard to keep the peace. When Garry goes crazy and vandalizes his dad’s office after being shut down again for more time with him, Helen breaks into his room, and finds the paper bag. Convinced her son is on drugs, she opens the bag to reveal a bunch of video tapes. Sighing with relief, she picks one up, and when the tape falls out, she discovers that her son is not a drug addict, but rather a porn addict. Or, ya know, a normal teenage boy. Ah, the days before the internet, when boys had to sneak porn in the house…
So, Helen realizes that Garry needs someone to talk to about sex, and asks if Tod will do it. Afterwards, Tod speaks open and honestly with Helen about Garry, saying that he is “one messed up little dude”. See, he got his first boner, and freaked, and didn’t know how to handle it, and was masturbating a whole lot, and thought there was something wrong with him. Tod: “I said, that’s what little dudes do”. Preach it, Tod! We also learn a little about Tod’s background: abusive father, etc. But he just keeps on being Tod, and for that we love him. As does Helen.
Tod and Julie fight constantly, mostly because Tod drag races and really, there’s enough brain damage going on there, why add potential for more? I side with Julie here. Oh, and Helen is dating Garry’s biology teacher, and Julie is pregnant. Three-ringed circus over here!
we have Nathan and Susan. Nathan is trying
to mold his daughter into being the perfect little brainiac. He is an intellectual snob. Susan goes along with all of his bullshit,
but slowly is getting frustrated. When
she tells him they can afford to go on vacation in Mensa Mansion Mexico,
he balks at sending Patti to Gil’s house (because obviously Gil is an
idiot, as are his children) and suggests they bring her along! Susan tells him she thought it would be nice
if it was just the two of them (someone wants her sexytime!) and instead of
jumping all over that, Nathan says it’ll be ok – they’ll get two rooms! Susan: “Which one will I be in?” Valid question, Susan, valid question. She retaliates by digging into her closet and
pulling out a shoebox of junkfood. You
Later, we discover that Susan has been poking holes in her diaphragm. She wants more kids, but Nathan says there needs to be “five years between sibs”. Ha! She freaks out on him about it, and they fight. Harley Jane Kozac looks gorgeous in this scene, by the way. She’s wearing this dark blue satin and lace thing that is tasteful yet sexy as hell. Damn, Nathan, get on that!
Fed up, eventually Susan leaves Nathan. Woo-hoo! Oh, but then he goes and does this:
I love Susan's reactions and little comments throughout. Also, I love how all the guys are like "WTF?!" and the girls get all dreamy over it.
We also see him being all cute and playful with Patti at the end, so he gets a nice little redemptive storyline.
And then there’s the storyline I always tend to forget about: Frank and Larry. Basically, Larry is a little shit, Frank realizes the error of his ways, and agrees to take Cool while Larry runs away to South America for some stupid deal that will most likely get him killed. Frank finally understands that the macho bullshit he forces on his family may not have been the best route to go.
At the end of the movie, we are treated to Grandma (who is now at Gil and Karen’s) who gives a wonderful little speech about roller coasters as a metaphor for life:
Can I also just reiterate how radiant and in the moment Mary Steenburgen is here? She is such an underrated actress! This scene also is a good sample of life over at Gil and Karen’s house. Dude, you need to lighten up!
So, we end with every generation and family member at the hospital as babies are born. It is a very touching end scene.
Wow. That was the condensed version.
So, why do I love this movie? I’m not a parent, and there isn’t really a character I identify with here. But, there are some I aspire to be like (a combo of Helen and Karen is kinda who I want to be) and some I know I would avoid (Nathan – I hate people like him!). But it is compelling and heartwarming and frustrating and hilarious and heartbreaking throughout. The movie is a rollercoaster, and a satisfying one at that. Ron did a wonderful job here, and really needs to make another movie like this. Is it any wonder that he returned to the material twice to adapt it for TV. The first attempt bombed, the second one is going into its third season this fall. It all comes down to family dynamics, and that is what is universal about this. We may not have exactly the same as this family, but we all have some kind of weird dynamic in our families.
The cast is a dream team of brilliant actors. I mean, holy crap, you’ve got Jason Robards, Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Tom Hulce (fresh off of Amadeus, no less!). And I really do have to give a shout-out to my man Rick Moranis for not being afraid to be the asshole here. He does it brilliantly, and it is probably my favourite of all his roles. Steve Martin is so great as a dad here, it amazes me that he has never had any kids of his own! He really is a tremendously talented actor. Please stop with the Pink Panther bullshit, Steve, and go back to dramedy stuff. A Simple Twist of Fate was glorious, this was brilliant! You are an amazing actor!
Harley Jane Kozac is also worth mentioning here, as she is also a very underrated actress. She also has books out, and they are hilarious, and you should all read them.
I adore this movie, I love the TV show… Ron Howard, you are so great at this stuff, can you please make more like this? Pretty please?
And that’s a wrap for today! Tomorrow: some Hollywood History for y’all!