By S. Jhoanna Robledo,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Poignant family dramedy with lots of adult themes.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Parenting can be messy, for both parents and children, and the rocky moments aren't glossed over here (though they're handled with loads of humor). Families come in all sorts of shapes and forms -- what matters is working together and supporting each other.
Positive Role Models
Nobody's perfect, but most characters try to make sense of their responsibilities to their children, to their partners, and to themselves. Married couples hit rough patches, but weather them with emotional generosity and honesty. On the other hand, Larry, who's addicted to gambling, never learns his lesson and leaves his son behind for his parents to raise.
Characters are almost all White. One parent has a biracial Black and White son who's tokenized and is the only child whose parents have abandoned him (which feels like careless writing). A principal, in a minor role as an uncaring administrator, is a Black woman. Gender norms are largely reinforced: Dads drill math problems, complain about wives talking too much, give sons toxic dating advice: "What do you say when a cute 8-year-old girl walks by?" "Hubba hubba." Moms cook in the kitchen, talk about romance, and have babies -- but they do discuss juggling work and motherhood and have sexual drives, which adds to their complexity. Fatphobic scenes include thin women worrying about their diets. A thin woman eats junk food when upset, portrayed as self-destructive behavior. Parents have a kid who's asked to attend "special ed" by the school -- the material is handled sensitively, though it focuses on non-disabled characters rather than the child who may have a learning disability. Grandparents and a great-grandma are complex, positive characters.
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Violence & Scariness
A character daydreams about a school shooting with automatic gunfire and explosions, shown for comedy. Toddlers and kids frequently play with toy guns and squirt guns, some painted silver and some in bright colors. Projectile vomit. An intense drag racing scene ends in a supporting character crashing (no lasting harm). A teen vandalizes an office with a hammer. A man talks about loan sharks threatening to kill him if he doesn't pay up. Couples fight loudly; a parent hits teens with a newspaper out of frustration.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Characters kiss, make out, grope in states of undress (no nudity, but characters wear just boxers/briefs in a couple scenes). Characters hold up a buzzing vibrator and a diaphragm in different scenes, played for comedy. Teens take photos during sex (nothing sensitive is shown), get married, and have a baby. A character attempts oral sex on someone who's driving (it results in a car accident). A stripteaser shows up to a young boy's birthday party as a mix-up (she wears a low-cut bodysuit, cleavage visible). A parent finds her son's pornography collection and plays a tape (nothing sensitive shown). Characters discuss masturbation.
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"S--t," "bitch," "damn," "piss," "butt-reaming a--hole," "slapping the salami," and "d--k." The term "the Oriental mind" is used by a White character.
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Products & Purchases
Busch beer, Evian water bottles, Kodak sign, a Twinkie, and a Dunkin' Donuts box can all be seen. A family attends a St. Louis Cardinals game with tons of logo apparel and merchandise.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Characters drink beer, liquor, wine -- there's an anecdote about being drunk in the past but nobody drinks to excess on-screen. References to smoking lots of "grass" in college. Characters infrequently smoke cigarettes, including indoors. Celebratory cigars are handed out by a character who rips down the "No Smoking" sign at the hospital and puffs at his cigar.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Parenthood is the affecting Ron Howard dramedy that inspired TV shows by the same name, released in 1990 and 2010. It's a fairly realistic -- pumped up a bit for comedy, of course -- look at parenthood, warts and all. Characters drink socially and smoke, including a scene where someone rips down the "No Smoking" sign at a hospital and puffs on a cigar. In a daydream, a character imagines a school shooting: Automatic gunfire and explosions take place. Characters crash vehicles and argue heatedly, and kids play with toy guns. Language includes "s--t," "bitch," "a--hole," and sexual terms "d--k" and "slapping the salami." Characters are complex, and most try their best to be responsible parents through situations such as teens who get married and pregnant, or adults navigating a child who's being asked to attend "special ed" at school. Not all characters are role models, though: A White father brings back to his parents' home a biracial son (who feels tokenized in this film), and then leaves him behind. But overall, positive messages about the difficulties and joys of child-rearing are clear.
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Based on 5 parent reviews
Funny! Not for kids!
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Keep all kids toddlers through teens away from this one.
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What's the Story?
Four adult siblings discover there's more growing up to do as they take on the challenges of PARENTHOOD. Gil (Steve Martin) and his wife Karen (Mary Steenburgen) have their hands full with three kids, one of whom has anxiety and another, a potential learning disability. Helen (Dianne Wiest), a single mom, battles a headstrong teen daughter (Martha Plimpton) and a younger son (Joaquin Phoenix) who'd rather lock himself in his room than spend time with either of them. Susan (Harley Jane Kozak) has a husband (Rick Moranis) who thinks intensively training their daughter for the rigors of academia is the way to go, but she's not so sure. And with their youngest sibling, Larry (Tom Hulce), arriving out of the blue with a son he hadn't known about himself, Gil, Helen, and Susan -- plus their cranky father (Jason Robards) -- find that life is about to get even messier.
Is It Any Good?
It's no mystery that parenthood is a minefield, but what makes director Ron Howard's film masterful is how it acknowledges this truism without relying on the usual tricks. Parents are allowed to be unsure; children, defiant. Everyone's allowed to be human, and nobody has all the answers. And here, they're funny -- very funny, thanks to a tight screenplay and a superb cast.
From a charismatic Keanu Reeves to Jason Robards' portrayal of a deeply flawed man, each actor turns in a fully realized performance. Martin anchors them all, with his agitated, kinetic humor that's grounded in real life, keeping the film entirely relatable despite some slightly over-the-top comedy and a predictable ending. Not all has aged well -- a school shooting, even one dreamed up in Gil's mind, is harder to watch today than in 1989, and having the film's only Black character (in any substantial role) be abandoned by both his parents feels careless. But overall, Howard steers the film with compassion and humor. As with parenting, it's probably the best way to make a great movie.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about each adult portrayed in Parenthood: How do they approach child-rearing and what do you think of it? What makes a good parent or a bad one? Does the film realistically depict the highs and lows of raising children?
What about the kids? Are they shaped by the way their parents raise them?
Are the characters' story arcs and transformations -- if any -- believable? Do family members eventually reach a place of understanding?
Do you think the film's comedic depiction of a mass school shooting hit differently when it was released in 1989? How did the scene make you feel?
- In theaters: August 2, 1989
- On DVD or streaming: April 24, 2007
- Cast: Dianne Wiest, Mary Steenburgen, Steve Martin
- Director: Ron Howard
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- Last updated: April 9, 2023
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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