There is something slightly deceptive about advertising "Parenthood" as a PG-13-rated "comedy about life, love and the gentle art of raising children." For that matter, saying it stars Steve Martin and is from the director of "Splash," "Willow" and "Cocoon" may also be somewhat misleading.
Not that any of those things is untrue. Indeed "Parenthood" is very much about the subject of its title, it is largely a comedy and it does star Steve Martin and is directed by Ron Howard.
But the film also has some dark, disturbing subplots, is very much an ensemble piece and hardly qualifies as the light comedy its director's credits imply. Further, it is not really in the PG-rated realm of those films, but more in the R-rated territory of Howard's earlier "Night Shift."
In fact, I was quite surprised at how raunchy "Parenthood" is, and was glad I had opted not to bring my younger children, though they wanted to see it after being wooed by the ads on television.
All of this is meant not so much as criticism of the movie as of the advertising campaign. Simply put, it's being sold as if it were a Disney-ish family movie, but that is simply not the case. Some of the material is so adult that an R rating doesn't seem unreasonable.
"Parenthood" examines the interrelations of a large extended family, with the central focus on Steve Martin, his wife Mary Steenburgen and their three young children in particular on the efforts of yuppie Martin to be a modern, supportive father to his troubled son while having to choose between his career and his home.
But nearly as much time is spent with other plots about Martin's sister Dianne Wiest, a divorcee with an even more troubled son (Leaf Phoenix) and a teenage daughter (Martha Plimpton) who, unbeknownst to Mom, lets her boyfriend (Keanu Reeves) sleep over in her bedroom; Martin's brother Tom Hulce, a drifter/con-artist who owes money to the mob and who drops off his illegitimate son with his parents; Martin's other sister (Harley Kozak), her overzealous husband (Rick Moranis) and the daughter he won't let be a child; and the patriarch of the group, Jason Robards, who was the kind of father Martin has vowed not to be.
Individually, these stories cover the spectrum of modern-day parenting, showing that the old axiom is really true no matter how young or old your children may be, you never stop being a parent.
Some of the vignettes are very funny, others are warm and insightful and others are quite dark and troublesome. All are developed as well as they can be in the time allotted, but the fact of the matter is "Parenthood" simply tries to do too much.
The result is what you might expect too many plots are given short shrift and ultimately some have been done better in other films such as Martin's struggle with work vs. parenting, a pale imitation of "Kramer vs. Kramer." Any of these subjects might have made a good TV movie of the week, but as it is they are shortchanged.
What's more, all of the stories are wrapped up in a neat and tidy little package at the end, which, while a nice endorsement of marriage and family, seems a bit too pat, given all that has gone before.
The most surprising aspect, however, is that the most vulgar moments are little more than cheap jokes, "Saturday Night Live" skits pushing the envelope to see how much can be gotten away with rather than humorous moments intrinsic to the film's plotting in particular the "oral highway" gag. Screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel have a penchant for stooping low, even in their best scripts, such as "Night Shift" and "Splash."
The performances are all wonderful, each actor having received some sort of acting plum and each giving it his all. Director Ron Howard is very good at comedy, and his timing is expert throughout the film. There are also many scenes that are quite memorable, stereotypes explored that are recognizable, and much of the movie is warm and endearing. Parents will revel in certain scenes. (And so would children themselves.)
Would that the film as a whole could be as well-focused as those moments.
"Parenthood" is rated PG-13, but should perhaps be R-rated for its sexual dialogue and innuendo. There is also some profanity and vulgarity.