It isn’t an easy job to raise a family. No matter how you prepare, no matter how you hope and pray you are making the right decisions, life has a way of lobbing curveballs, one after another. Sometimes the best you can do is hold on tight and prepare for a wild ride. Such was the premise of Parenthood, a 1989 film directed by Ron Howard. Thanks to an ensemble cast featuring Steve Martin, Jason Robards, Rick Moranis, Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Wiest, Tom Hulce, Keanu Reeves, and a very young Joaquin Phoenix (billed as “Leaf”), Parenthood captured the trials and tribulations of raising a family in heartfelt and amusing detail.

Gil Buckman (Martin) is a devoted family man, hoping to succeed at the thing that most parents strive for – correct all of the mistakes that their own parents made, while somehow still holding down a career. Gil’s father was particularly distant during his childhood so he tries to make sure that he is always around for his own. It might sound simple, but of course there are complications. Gil’s young son Kevin is struggling with behavioral issues and his wife Karen (Steenburgen) is pregnant with their fourth child.

Gil’s siblings have their own family struggles. His sister Helen is divorced and the father’s notable absence from her two children’s lives have had a profound effect. Her teen daughter Julie is sexually involved with an unmotivated loser named Tod, who can’t decide whether to be a house painter or race car driver and switches back and forth between the two. Youngest son Garry is taking the divorce much harder though. Raised by women only and entering puberty, he is somewhat of a hermit and desperate for a father figure. And with his dad refusing to allow him to visit, his only option is Tod.

Gill’s other sister Susan seems to have more going for her. She is a successful school teacher and married to a brainy nerd named Nathan. Together, they are raising their gifted child Patty, although the overly ambitious dad is taking things a little too far, teaching the preschooler multiple foreign languages and advanced mathematics, all while depriving her of a normal childhood. When Susan gets pregnant with another child, Nathan reacts poorly, thanks to the fact that Susan punched holes in her diaphragm. The tension of the situation leads to a separation.

Then there is Gil’s brother Larry. Never having worked an honest day in his life, Larry is always seeking out the next get-rich-quick scheme and disappearing for long periods of time. He is clearly his Dad’s favorite, even though Gil is far more responsible, and when he shows up unannounced, with illegitimate son “Cool” in tow, the whole family lets out a collective groan while Dad fawns all over his favored offspring, showing off his classic cars and treating Larry like the greatest son a man could ever hope for. Eventually though, the true nature of the visit surfaces. Gill has enormous gambling debts, the results of which are life-threatening. The father reluctantly offers to help his son and even offers him a lucrative job, but it is clear that Larry isn’t sticking around very long and Grandpa is going to be left raising Cool.

Parenthood was a touching film about perhaps one of the most universal experiences that people share, delighting audiences with some truly funny scenes while waxing poetic about the profound and complex experience that raising a family actually is. Perhaps the film is best summed up, however, by an offhanded remark by the family’s seemingly senile Grandma in the final moments. She offhandedly mentions that when she was a young girl, her husband took her on a roller coaster for the first time. Marveling at the excitement of the various peaks and valleys along the journey, she offers these words of wisdom:

“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! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”

If you could relate to this Ron Howard film, we hope you’ll take a few moments to share your thoughts about Parenthood in our comments section below, as we tip our hats to all of the parents out there – past, present and future – for taking a ride on life’s little roller coaster.

One Response to “Parenthood”

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  1. Gina says:

    My parents coerced me into watching this movie with them, but it wasn’t my kind of movie. It had some good parts, but mostly I didn’t like it. Maybe because I’m not a parent?

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