Monday, August 2, 2010

I've Got a Crush On: the movie Parenthood

Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.
Gil: Oh?
Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!
Gil: What a great story.
Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn't like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.

This movie became an instant classic to me the moment I saw it as a teenager. Years later, at 35 years old, it still remains a top ten favorite of mine, a movie worth revisiting yearly. The first time I saw Parenthood it represented a dream to me: that someone from a fucked up place could make a family able to love one another and thrive. Who best to represent childhood pain with a friendly face than Steve Martin and this movie family of his: the Buckman's? One of my favorite, most beloved faces in Hollywood, Steve Martin is true genius. His gifts are prodigious- the turns simple lines into heartwarming moments of human connection or struggle without souring into a character of himself; a true achievement for a man who primarily plays men who are caricatures of one kind or another, representing a 'type' but pulled from type and made into something unique and entirely entertaining.

In Parenthood Martin was partnered brilliantly with Mary Steenburgen as husband and wife of three children, the oldest who suffers from some kind of anxiety disorder that leads to the hilarious argument in the Principal's office about why their son is so nervous, ending with Gil accusing his wife of smoking pot 'like a chimney' in college. The sweet and steady love between the two- even though obviously stressed throughout the movie- was addictive to me. That is what I wanted. A life like anyone had- one that could and would get messy, complicated and stressful- with a partner to walk through it with, in it with me, for better or worse.

Parenthood extends beyond Gil's immediate family to include a cast of beautifully, hilariously executed characters: Gil's emotionally stunted father, long suffering mother and black sheep brother ( played touchingly by the great F. Murray Abraham from another of my favorite movies, Amadeus ) who brings home a 'surprise' son he named...Cool. There are two other sisters and their extended families and dramas that are included in the movie's plot, and all work together seamlessly in set pieces that are instant classics. There is the Keanu Reeves character who famously says '... they even make you get a license to fish! but any butt reamin' asshole can be a father. ' Joaquin Phoenix ( ' Leaf ' at the time ) plays the deeply troubled son of Gil's sister, with a haunted, intelligent intensity that is a clear foreshadowing of the young man ahead. There is the scene where the lights go out on a large family dinner and someone brings out a vibrator saying ' I found a flashlight! ' to find it buzzing away as the lights go back on. A child asks ' What IS that?' and a crafty adult answers ' An electric ear-cleaner ' to which Grandma remarks ' Oh my that's large!'

The sway between the enormous love of family and the reality of the depth of wounding we can do to one another, and how that is or is not passed on to our children - this is the beating heart of this movie, layered in sweet and laugh out loud scenes of family life.

See it!
( the opening scene alone makes me tear up and laugh, a good indicator
for the entire rest of the movie- or just my neurotic emotional state )

Vashti said...

Oh Maggie I cant wait to see photos of Ever. I was telling my friend about you the other day. She has been through many of the same experiences that you have and she sat and read your blog in tears. She felt so encouraged seeing your Ever belly.
Thankyou for your honesty and frankness, it really speaks volumes.
And you are kids are pretty scrummy!! (so are yours! ;-)

Elisabeth said...

I remember this film Parenthood so well, too Maggie.

The thing that stands out for me along with the grandmother's comments about the difference between the roller coaster and the merry go round was the sight of that adolescent daughter giving her mother hell.

I thought to myself then, how amazing. How could such a daughter exist and then I had my children and they grew into adolescents and I saw it all from another perspective.

Parenthood, the film and the real thing is amazing. It can alter your perspective.

Thanks for reminding me, Maggie

Petit fleur said...

I adore it too Maggie! There are so many awesome parts... All the ones you mentioned are among my favorites. There are just so many, that it's hard to say which is my fave.

I also loved when the clown doesn't show up and Gil tried to make a balloon animal and he ends up tying the balloon in knots... "You're lower intestines". I do not know why, but that always cracks me up so badly I have to stop the movie till I can regain my composure.

I also like when the "slow" kid teaches the brainy girl how to "spin"!
Thanks for reminding me of this, I'm smiling now and will have to see it again.

Ms. Moon said...

Yeah. You are so right about this movie. I love it too. And that quote is heartbreakingly true.
One of my favorites and I'm glad it's yours.

Justin Evans said...

FYI so you can fix it: It's Tom Hulce who plays Gil's brother in Patenthood and Mozart in Amedeus. F. Murray Abraham plays Salieri.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

It is a great film. Definitely.

mosey said...

I may just have to watch that one again tonight on Netflix. Like you, I've watched it over and over - it's a movie that has "aged" well and doesn't seem dated at all. Timeless.

Michele R said...

It has been a favorite of ours too for all the years of our marriage. I have never forgotten the grandma's analogy of the roller coaster. Great review!

Everton Terrace said...

I know I've seen it and a few of the scenes you mention, I do remember, but the movie as a whole is lost on me now. You've renewed my interest, am going to put it in my Netflix queue and watch it with new eyes.

katiecrackernuts said...

On that piece of dialogue alone I'd like to see it.

justmakingourway said...

Oh, man. Blogger just ate my entire comment. In a nutshell:

Liked this movie when I saw it years ago - now want to see it again.

A friend of mine recently saw Steve Martin with his band. Said he was amazing. I was jealous. Love him!

Anonymous said...

Hello! I came over to thank you for commenting on my blog and [I see] that you have added your name to my 'follow' thingamijig.So that you so much for that too.
Your post was very interesting, I too love that movie anfd agree that Steve Martin is a genius. I shall come back and see you again.

Bridget said...

i love me some steve martin.

Lisa said...


Maggie May said...

thanks Justin!

Terresa said...

Pass the popcorn, I'm there!

Parenthood is one of my fave movies of all time. In fact, a long running joke between Mr. Wellborn & I is from Parenthood. The scene when Steve Martin nervously washes his hands & says something like, "Why is (son's name) so nervous? Where does he get it from?"

And then there's the stash of goodies the one mom (forget her name) pigs out on from time to time (I have several chocolate stashes around the house). So funny! Love that movie to pieces & beyond!

Courtney said...

one of my all time favorite movies

Caroline of Salsa Pie said...

One of my favorites as well. And Dianne Wiest is one of my favorite actresses and I thought she was fabulous in this movie.

Maggie May said...

Caroline she was underrated in this movie IMO. She did a majestic job with a small part. There is something soooo interesting about the combination of her face and her personal velocity.

nicole said...

truly one of the best movies ever. indeed.

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