What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this affecting dramedy treads lightly on racy subjects -- porn and teen sexuality, for instance -- and does so with great heart and humor. It's a fairly realistic -- pumped up a bit for comedy, of course -- look at parenthood, warts and all. It may be a little too frank for tweens and young teens, but older teens will find it instructive about what their moms and dads may be feeling and thinking (and vice versa). There's some swearing and social drinking, and straightforward discussions about the difficulties and joys of child-rearing.
What's the story?
Three adult siblings -- Gil (Steve Martin), Helen (Dianne Wiest), and Susan (Harley Jane Kozak) -- discover there's more growing up to do as they take on the challenges of parenthood. Gil and his wife (Mary Steenburgen) have their hands full with three kids, one of whom's suffering from anxiety. Plus, Gil's job pressures weigh heavily on both their shoulders. Helen, a single mom, is battling a headstrong teenage daughter (Martha Plimpton) and a young son (Joaquin Phoenix) who'd rather lock himself in his room than spend any time with either of them. Susan's husband (Rick Moranis) thinks training their daughter for the rigors of academia starting at preschool is the way to go, but she's not certain. And with their youngest sibling (Tom Hulce) arriving out of the blue, Gil, Helen, and Susan, plus their cranky father (Jason Robards), find that life's 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 ambivalent; children, defiant. Fathers play favorites; mothers surrender the yoke of wisdom. In short, they're allowed to be human, and not have all the answers. And here, they're funny -- very funny, thanks to a fairly airtight screenplay and a superb cast.
From a superficially-ditzy-but-surprisingly-wise Keanu Reeves (as Helen's daughter's boyfriend) to a painfully flawed Jason Robards, 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 comic gyrations and a predictable ending. Howard steers the entire enterprise with compassion and humor; as with parenting, it's probably the best way to make a great movie.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about each parent portrayed in the film: How do they approach the whole enterprise 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 are raising them? Is their metamorphosis -- if any -- in the movie believable? Do moms and dads and their kids eventually reach a place of understanding?