Reviewed by: John Dickerson
Starring: Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Wiest, Jason Robards, Rick Moranis, Tom Hulce, Martha Plimpton, Keanu Reeves, Harley Jane Kozak, Dennis Dugan, Joaquin Phoenix, Eileen Ryan, Helen Shaw | Director: Ron Howard | Writer: Lowell Ganz
“Train up a child in the world’s ways and just sort of hope for the best.” To Christian viewers, that pretty much summarizes the message of “Parenthood”, a 1989 comedy hit that chronicles the trials and tribulations of trying to raise a family when God is left out of the equation. Using the fictional Buckman brood (played by a strong ensemble cast including Steve Martin, Jason Robards and Dianne Wiest), director Ron Howard offers some good insights into a wide range of parent-child relationships. These quite involving stories unfortunately never involve God except to use His name as a curse word (on a fairly frequent basis).
At one point in “Parenthood”, the Buckmans' great-grandmother compares parenting to a roller coaster ride, a metaphor which holds some truth in terms of forgetting our fears and just enjoying the “adventure” of raising children. The dangerous lie mixed into this sentiment seems to be that parents must simply “hang on for the ride” (which, as depicted here, includes rebellion, deceit, shiftlessness and psychological problems) with no means of controlling the results (like following Proverbs' clear-cut guidelines on discipline, for example).
“Parenthood” wins points in its often realistic portrayal of certain personality types and family dynamics, so much so that I often found myself thinking, “Boy, that’s just like so-and-so in our family.” Unfortunately, the film’s obsession (in varying degrees) with sex, while also possibly realistic for most of today’s culture, made this movie very difficult to recommend. In addition to some teenagers' involvement with pornography and each other (shown on screen briefly), immoral sexual practices are a primary topic of conversation for virtually all of the adult cast, including even the family patriarch who brags about his first experience in the back seat of an antique car.
Other than some discussion of a possible abortion, violence is limited to one short but humorous scene of a perfectionist father (Rick Moranis) instructing his toddler in martial arts. In addition to the blasphemies against God’s name cited previously, other unnecessary profanities are used on a regular basis throughout the film.
Ultimately, and admirably, the gift of life and children are celebrated, but “Parenthood's” warm and fuzzy ending, while encouraging, seems highly contrived, especially for a family where the author of life is strictly denied.