I have mixed emotions about this movie. So mixed that I have to look at this movie as "entertainment" and "political statement." Let me deal with the entertainment value of the film first, and then the political ramifications.
As entertainment, the movie was very good. The pacing was generally excellent, and Howard had good control over a *very* large and uniformly good cast. I thought Martha Plimpton, Steve Martin, Jason Robards, and the kid who played Kevin were all terrific. I have mixed feelings about Dianne Wiest, whom many people have singled-out for praise. She seemed too nice, too accomodating to the rather strange whims of her son and daughter. (By the way, I normally love Wiest, and thought she was wonderful in PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, FOOTLOOSE, and, especially, in HANNAH AND HER SISTERS.)
This movie is so middle-American that it takes place somewhere near St. Louis. Jason Robards is the father of four children: Dianne Wiest, Steve Martin, ??? (Susan---Which actress played her?? What movies has she been in)??, and Tom Hulce. Wiest is divorced with two children, Martha Plimpton and Leaf Phoenix (yes, who *else's* brother would have a name like "Leaf"?). Martin is married to Mary Steenburgen, and they have three young children, including one (Kevin) who's been labelled as emotionally disturbed by his school. Yes, Kevin does tend to break into tears and wimp out easily, but.... ??? (Susan) is married to Rick Moranis and has a 3-year-old that Moranis is training to be a child prodigy. And Hulce is the prodigal son of the family, and surprises his older siblings by appearing at a party with his young son. The son was the offspring of an affair with a black woman, who is currently on the run from the law, which is why Hulce suddenly has him.
The movie has *many* good lines in it, and a few outrageous sight gags. One that stands out features Martin holding what he *thinks* is a flashlight after a brief power outage. The children were very well-cast and directed for the film. One bad or over-done performance would have been bad for the balance of the picture.
Anyway, I do recommend this movie, despite the fact that the excellent pacing fell to little pieces during the last ten minutes of the film, and the fact that several characters make absolutely unvelievable transformations in incredibly short periods of time. However, I do have some major problems with the treatment of women in this movie, which I'll go into detail in in another newsgroup.
One poster recently mentioned that she brought her school-aged child to the film, and thought the sex jokes went right over the kid's head. Leslie picked up on almost every sex-reference in the movie (except for, thank goodness, the afore-mentioned sight gag), and tended to ask "What do they mean?" only to have me respond "Oh, I'll try to explain it to you later." Like when you're 12. This really isn't a good movie for a preadolescent. Leslie thought the movie was very funny (many of the other jokes can be comprehended by kids).
Aside from the fact we went to the movie to get out of the rain (we were camping Acadia National Park this weekend, so we saw the film in Bar Harbor's Carilion (?) Theater, a 1932 art-deco movie house), I was curious about Leslie's reactions to the children in the film. She particularly enjoyed the overly-taught child. Hmmm....
And now for the political ramifications:
DISCLAIMER: In a number of interviews, the writers of this film have said they drew on their experiences as fathers to create the movie. I don't think they deliberately intended to write a movie that so strongly promoted the old "anatomy is destiny" cliche. But that's how much of the movie came off.
The theme of Parenthood appears to be threefold:
In this movie, we are introduced to a number of families. Gil (Steve Martin), a basically nice guy, is still scarred by the way his father ignored him as a child, and has a son who's severely oversensitive. His older sister (Dianne Wiest) is a divrorced woman coping with two teenagers, one of whom marries VERY young and the other of whom is absolutely non-communicative. Their younger sister Susan is married to a man who's practically taken her out of the loop of parenthood, by drilling their three-year-old in academia. And their younger brother (Tom Hulce) is a charming ne're-do-well who arrives with a surprise son.
At the center of this group is Jason Robards, their father who lavishes more attention on his antique car than on his wife or his grown children or his young grandchildren. Yes, he's messed up badly, and even he admits that he wasn't such a hot father.
So, what's wrong with this picture??
(Movie spoilers follow.)
Now, it may sound like I really hated the movie. Actually, I really liked it. The performances are very good, and while I found myself hating the plot, the dialogue is pretty sharp. There are many very funny moments in the movie. But it bothered me, too.