Parenthood – A Sort of a Film Review

It’s funny how old movies pop up sometimes. They seem to do it in several places all at once. There’s probably a good logical reason for that but I'm damned if I know what it is.

I was driving to Dublin early the other morning and I had Marty Whelan on the radio, as I often do when I’m early morning driving. Marty goes around the houses a bit and he tells truly awful jokes but, man, he knows and loves his music and he always plays a gentle but eclectic mix. So, as the show's new running gag goes, mine is a Marty car.

The other morning, Marty announced he would play something from Randy Newman that he hadn’t heard before. It was the closing theme song from the 1989 film 'Parenthood'. The song was called, ‘I Love to See You Smile’. Marty played it and was far too polite to point out that it is, for all intents and purposes, an early version of ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’ from Toy Story. For the later film, Randy seems to have just swapped in some new lyrics and got on with it. Fair enough. If it works, it works.

This got me thinking about the movie ‘Parenthood’ as I drove along. I’m pretty good at remembering when, where, and with who I saw a movie and I knew, straight off, that I had seen this one with Patricia as part of a Double Feature in an arty little cinema in St Kilda, Melbourne, which only ever showed double features. That’s good rememberin’ but it bugged me that I couldn’t remember what the other half of the double feature was. Maybe we didn’t stay for the other part. We did that once for ‘Days of Heaven’ and ‘The Milagro Beanfield War. We only stayed for Days of Heaven because I very much wanted Patricia to see it. But I digress. I think the other half of the Parenthood feature might have been ‘Heathers’. Not entirely sure though.

So, anyway, that was Parenthood, on the radio. The end, right?

Well, no.

Friday evening, late, and I’m flicking around some channels and, golly-gosh, there it is, on RTE2. Parenthood. Maybe it’s not pure serendipity. Maybe Marty’s people spotted it in the TV schedule and hauled out the music for it. I reckon that’s probably it. Nothing fateful, nothing magical. But, still, you know… there it was, on my TV.

I watched what was left of it, which was quite a chunk. It kept me up later than I had intended but, sod it, it’s the weekend.

It’s funny how old movies pop up sometimes. But it’s also funny how old movies interweave themselves into your life in such intricate and inextricable ways.

On the most obvious level, Parenthood is a fairly run-of-the mill, pretty schmaltzy, late Eighties entertainment, which allows Steve Martin to work through some of his better known physical and facial talents. It has a strong cast and it is almost unbearably saccharine at times. But, at other times, it is quite spectacularly rude, in a funny way. In among all the ‘importance of Family’ business, there are a number of gags which seems to have fallen in from a much more adult entertainment. Recall, if you will, the blow*ob and the vi*brator gags, both very funny. It has a sort of a 'Richard Curtis' feeling, where warmth and cosiness can migrate to outrageous cringe at any moment and at the drop of a hat.

Watching one of these scenes reminded me that I had actually seen Parenthood twice before.

 The second time was a couple of days after my Granny had died. I was home from London for the funeral and my Aunt was home from Boston and we were all in my parent’s house on one of those stunned, dull, evenings that you tend to get after you’d bit farewell to a loved one. My Aunt suggested that I go and rent a video for the grieving cohort to watch, just to take our mind off things and, although it had been a couple of years since I saw it, I had remembered it was a warm family film with a good quality Granny figure in it.

The screening was not a success. The more edgy scenes went down like a lead balloon, and were made considerably worse by my Boston Aunt guffawing her way loudly through them. The parents trooped off to bed stony-faced afterward and my Aunt, still guffawing at the vib*ator scene, reassured me that I had tried my best.

Reflecting on this in the kitchen yesterday, I momentarily wondered if my Mum and Dad still cringed over this episode as I apparently do. That was the briefest of brief moments. In the next moment, I remembered, of course, that both Mum and Dad are long gone from us now and any concerns they might have had over the screening of a slightly-unsuitable video has long ago become completely irrelevant.

Therein lies a sneaking sense of how movies manage to intertwine with our lives. That point seemed more emphasized by my second rewatch of Parenthood on Friday evening. The film is all about Life and Family and so it perhaps not surprising that it can bring altered resonances with it, when viewed again, 33 years later.

When I first saw it, I wasn’t married and I didn’t have any inkling of ever having children of my own. My parents were alive and well, my Granny was also kicking around. All of these things were natural and true.

Decades later, that entire older generation has long gone and the sons which didn’t even exist back then are grown men and are gone from the homestead.

In the movie there is a young kid with some issues. A clear-faced cool kid. There is also a gangly teen, swigging soda from the fridge door and angling his body to help make his points. These two actors are, respectively, Joaquin Phoenix and Keanu Reeves. River, brother and friend, was still around, forging his own stellar career. The decades between then and now seem to have somehow shaped the film to fit the revised facts of our lives without ever changing a single frame. It is our world which has changed.

Jason Roberts, as the elder male, had some of the best lines. At a kid's baseball game he tells his son how a father is, always and forever, a father, no matter how grown the sons and daughters become, “There is no end zone. You never cross the goal line, spike the ball and do your touchdown dance. Never.” That meant little or nothing to me, back in 1990 in Melbourne, Australia. Now, I guess I know a little more.

I stayed up to see the end titles of the film and to hear the Randy Newman song again, just to see if it really was just Toy Story with different words. Well, maybe not just for that reason.

I should have known better. RTE2 doesn’t bother with end titles. It just plasters up an unforgiving ‘The End’ sign and packs you off to bed. Not to be outdone, I called up the end credits on YouTube on my phone, held it up towards the TV and watched it that way.

Toy Story? Yes, definitely. If you had asked me, I would have practically sworn that the end titles also featured some outtakes from the film, but that was not actually the case.

Memory, eh?

1 comment:

Jim Murdoch said...

I expect I have seen Parenthood, the film; I've definitely seen the TV series. It's trope, the family-centric sitcom whether it be the Conners, the Goldbergs, the Munsters or the Clampetts. And, no matter how dysfunctional, the familiness always wins in the end. I hated the lot of 'em. Still do. It's like Tolstoy said (although Dickens could've said it too): "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." My family was Larkinesquely unhappy. The families on TV rubbed my nose in it every day. That said, in the real world, I've never met a functional (as in non-dysfunctional) family; I think the adjective is redundant.