Parenting is not Kid's Stuff
Ron Howard's "Parenthood" suffers from one almighty problem and it's not that at times it feels like a series of sitcom ideas, it's that the way it's been promoted makes it look like a family movie aimed at a younger audience. You just have to look at the DVD cover with Steve Martin in a funny pose holding two children or the trailer where he is dressed up as a cowboy at a kid's party and you couldn't be blamed for thinking that "Parenthood" was a comedy for kids. But it's not; it's a comedy about the trials and tribulations of parenting and as such is pretty good but pretty good for grown ups rather than children.
The Buckman's are a pretty average family with young children and all the issues which go along with them. But then so do Gil Buckman's (Steve Martin - Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) brothers and sisters who are all struggling to cope with the various issues of parenting from troublesome teens, to stressed out little children and maybe just being a little too pushy when it comes to their little geniuses.
It's to director Ron Howard's credit that he has managed to make "Parenthood" feel like a well made movie, because the various situations it covers are familiar territory from a range of sitcoms. You have the parents who are pretty normal as they deal with their increasing brood and the general day to day problems which come with them, such as a child being sick and school appointments, you also have the over pushy parents who are trying to turn their little child into a genius, a single mother whose teenagers are delivering their own set of issues such as rebellion, sex and puberty all wrapped up with a generational parenting issue. It certainly takes on a lot of different parenting issues and through that the various set ups happen in one set of siblings makes it work surprisingly well, if a little contrived. It gives it a sort of flow when you go from one families issues to the next because the parents are related.
But the cleverness of "Parenthood" comes from that whilst it may feel contrived that all these situations occur in a bunch of related families the situations are realistic. The underperforming child, the rebellious teen in the throws of love and the young boy experiencing the confusing mess of puberty with out a father figure to talk to. You can associate with them because they are all real life situations that you might have experienced or are aware of in the real world.
But then although real the situations deliver a sense of humour which makes you knowingly smile. When Gil and Karen are just about to have sex normal issues such as remembering the school appointment interrupt the mood. Even the fact that when Gil gets out of bed he is wearing some unflattering underwear is amusing because it's frighteningly real. The same through out all the situations, the teenage boy who is struggling with puberty and whether getting an erection makes him a pervert makes you remember your own experiences with a tint of humour.
Whilst much of the humour comes naturally from the various situations there are times where the humour is purposefully injected. Keanu Reeves in an early role as a teenager is amusing with his surfer speak and frankness about discussing sex with his girlfriend's mother. The injection of comedy for the most works, although it does occasionally feel a little too forced in its search to find humour when it's not always needed.
As for the various performances it's hard to pick one star over another because they are all good. Steve Martin leads "Parenthood" with a restrained performance where he excels in delivering a more natural comedy performance rather than going for his over topness. But he is matched through out from a cast which includes Mary Steenburgen, Jason Robards, Dianne Wiest, Rick Moranis, Martha Plimpton and Keanu Reeves. Even Joaquin Phoenix appears as the young Garry with the issues surrounding puberty although he is billed as Leaf Phoenix in the credits.
What this all boils down to is that "Parenthood" is a funny look at the real life issues of being a parent. Somehow it manages to encompass a whole range of different parenting issues and makes each of them real but yet showing the humour. If only "Parenthood" hadn't been promoted as a family film aimed at younger audiences I am sure it would have done much better.