In amongst the cuteness of Ron Howard's 1989 feelgood movie there are some pretty bleak visions of parenthood. It never, never ends, the film tells us, and if the prolific birthrate shown here is anything to go by, it's not surprising.
It's still a feelgood movie, though, and babies and balloon folding reign in the undeniable anger of the line "My whole life is 'have to!'"
The Buckman family is comprised of an extensive and entertaining ensemble cast, some of whose careers have since waned (Rick Moranis, Mary Steenburgen) and others who have gone on to greater things (Joaquin 'Leaf' Phoenix, Keanu 'Still a dude' Reeves). At it's center is Gil Buckman: Steve Martin in a career-defining role that shifted him from playing the fool as in his earlier films, to playing overworked but resourceful fathers.
Director Ron Howard combines this multi-generational suburban soap almost effortlessly, considering the number of parents or would be parents we're expected to care about. In this respect, he is one of the most accomplished directors at making the kind of films Hollywood loves to make most.
While the film mocks its own sentimentality, it also believes in it wholeheartedly. There is a scene in which Gil's son is humiliated by a bad catch in the Little League. Gil's former pride as a father is dashed as he imagines his son grown into a deranged sociopath as a result of his upbringing. No prizes for guessing what happens when the scene is played out again later in the movie.
"Life is a roller coaster" is the final facile message.