As much a drama as a comedy, despite the presence of Martin and Moranis. Both get a couple of broad moments to satisfy their comedy fans (eg Cowboy Gil, the baseball pitch happy dance) but both play more nuanced characters than their earlier screwball stuff. This film is more about dealing with the lows of parenthood (kids with learning/emotional issues, kids getting married or pregnant too young, kids discovering monkeys to be spanked) than it is about celebrating the highs. But the film deals with these challenges in a way that has such affection and empathy for the characters, that the film earns the humour in is comedic moments, and the joy in the uplifting ones. The final scene - especially the wonderful slow pan across (almost) the entire ensemble is beautifully conceived and executed...and an exquisite, wordless evocation of "what it's all about" - as my neighbour said to me after my son was born. Life, really.
But mostly, this film lives up to its title. And yet it's really more about "fatherhood" than "parenthood", with the focus more on Martin, Moranis and Robards than on their respective spouses. The exception to this is Dianne Wiest - who delivers the standout perf in the film (and not for the first time). But the entire ensemble is great. Robards is typically proficient, although his arc from a dad worse than Darth Vader to merely a grumpy old (but loveable) man is a little too Hollywoodised, especially considering his wife is wallpaper here. Hulce is too much a cardboard douche to resonate - perhaps he had some more sympathetic stuff cut. Otherwise, all the subplots and characters work to one degree or another.
Martin does neurotic winner (as opposed to loser) better than anyone, and he certainly portrays a devoted father here, but as a husband...well he comes across as a bit of a bastard, to be honest - spitting out invective at a world-weary (and generally lovely) Steenburgen with an uncomfortable savagery at times. But oddly, I bought their relationship...I accepted that the wife was well used to shrugging off the husband's incensed rants as mere steam-release venting. And the actors sell the softer moments of the marriage nicely too.
Speaking of which, I screened this for Hue recently as we have just become parents ourselves. I never thought she had seen the film before, and I don't think she really HAD ever watched it, with much attention, anyway. But halfway through the movie, she turns to me and says: "I've seen this. She gives him a blowjob in the car while he's driving. And they crash". It's funny what you remember.
I also remember some of the funny dialogue of Parenthood. Some samples:
Keanu: "You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, or drive a car. Hell, you need a license to catch a fish! But they'll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father."
Plimpton: "He said that he loved me."
Wiest: "Men say that. They all say that. Then they cum."
But the quote I've always recalled most from Parenthood is Steve Martin's bitter, resigned Gil spitting out a phrase that he makes sound pretty bad, but isn't, necessarily...something that perfectly encapsulates the experience that this movie gets its title from:
"My whole life is "HAVE TO""
The brilliant cast -- all getting opportunities to flex comedic or dramatic chops that audiences aren't used to seeing -- really elevate the proceedings and provide characters who are enjoyable to watch throughout the emotional highs and lows.
Whether you're a child or parent, were born in the 80s or 90s, or have grown up kids or little ones, there's something really nostalgic about this film, its setting, and its content. While not perfect (many of the more mature moments of comedy seem a bit out of place, for instance), you'll see something of your life in here somewhere, and offer a few well-deserved chuckles.