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Ron Howard’s best film to not involve a mermaid is this delightful and surprisingly insightful ensemble comedy about family life in the ‘80s. Parenthood stars Steve Martin as a neurotic dad named Gil, obsessed with providing his children with the happy childhood his own father (Jason Robards) was unable to give him. While Gil and his wife (Mary Steeenburgen) attempt to navigate the world of middle-class parenting in an exhaustingly devoted style, his siblings deal with their own struggles. Helen (Dianne Wiest) is a single mom trying to raise a troubled, introverted son (Leaf Phoenix) and a free-spirited daughter (Martha Plimpton) who is wrapped up with a going-nowhere dude (Keanu Reeves). Susan (Harley Jane Kozak) is reluctantly participating in the super high-achieving parenting style of her yuppie husband (Rick Moranis). And Larry (Tom Hulce) is a gambling addict unwilling to deal with the responsibilities of being a parent at all, even though he’s recently become one.

Howard and producer Brian Grazer were both family men with young children who felt that the inherent comedy in their daily lives as dads and husbands could be fodder for a movie that would resonate with all parents. Working with frequent collaborators Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (writers of Night Shift, Splash, and Gung Ho) they created one of the best ensemble films of the decade. Not only does Parenthood ring hilariously and sometimes painfully true for anyone who has ever had parents, let alone been a parent, it provides a showcase for some of the best actors of four generations. Everyone in the ensemble shines, and each character feels dimensional and lived-in, which is quite an accomplishment for a movie with as many one-liners and as much broad physical comedy as this one.

Howard goes overboard with the staging of some of the set pieces, especially some unnecessary fantasy sequences, but Martin’s distinctive dual screen-personas—he draws on both the wild and crazy guy and the reserved dramatic actor here—are solid enough to provide a grounded center for everything that swirls wildly around in this movie. Martin has made funnier pictures, but no film has utilized his unique skillset as fully as Parenthood. Wiest also shines in one of her Oscar-nominated performances, and it’s great to see Moranis play one of the least broad characters in a movie for a change. The themes and morals of the picture are surprisingly permissive and even transgressive for a film that scored so big with mainstream audiences in the hyper-conservative ‘80s. But this little movie is so well written and so wonderfully cast it’s not surprising that it became a breakout hit, even in the crowded, blockbuster summer of 1989.

Twitter Capsule:
Steve Martin heads up a wonderful ensemble cast in Howard's warm, funny, surprisingly insightful and mildly transgressive (for its day) comedy about the pleasures and pains of family life in the '80s. 

Directed by Ron Howard
Produced by Brian Grazer

Screenplay by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel
Story by Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, and Ron Howard

With: Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Wiest, Jason Robards, Rick Moranis, Tom Hulce, Martha Plimpton, Keanu Reeves, Harley Jane Kozak, Dennis Dugan, Joaquin Phoenix, Helen Shaw, Max Elliott Slade, Lowell Ganz, Rance Howard, and Clint Howard

Cinematography: Donald McAlpine
Editing: Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill
Music: Randy Newman

Runtime: 124 min
Release Date: 02 August 1989
Aspect Ratio: 1.37 : 1