Saturday, September 17, 2022

Recasting 1989 (supporting): "Parenthood"

This might end up being one of my favorite choices during this project, and the first of (spoiler!) more than one Dianne Wiest role I'm selecting. Ron Howard's comedy-drama has been one of my favorites since I was a child. I think I've said before on this blog (I don't remember exactly for which lead recasting selection), that it's interesting to re-watch films as an adult that I enjoyed so much as a kid. Particularly when the film includes children characters who were about the same age as I was when I watched it. Parenthood is definitely one of those movies. And it's a bit funny that when I see it now, I'm pretty much the same age as all the parents. While I'm myself childless, I definitely identify with the parents' struggles with their families and careers paths, a fun turn from my original point of view as a relatively responsibility-free elementary school student. 

The film weaves several concurrent storylines of an extended family in St. Louis, the Buckmans. Helen (Wiest) is a divorced bank manager who struggles with her teen daughter Julie (Martha Plimpton) running away and getting married/pregnant, and her pubescent son, Garry (Joaquin Phoenix) whom she suspects is doing drugs but is really just carting around porn tapes and in need of a male role model. We see Helen's older brother Gil (Steve Martin) struggle with a child with mental illness. Her younger sister, Susan, is in a marriage where her husband's attention is mostly focused on their prodigy five year-old. And a younger brother, Larry, a screw up gambler who shows up out of nowhere with a young black child (a detail that raised more eyebrows thirty years ago than it likely would now) after no one has seen him in years. One of my favorite scenes in all of cinema is when Julie's sex photos of her and her boyfriend get mixed up with Helen's photos from a promotion at the bank:


"And we have the picture's to prove it!" Get's me every time.

None of the family's problems are necessarily out of this world complicated or threatening (except for maybe Larry's life being threatened by teamsters). Most of us have experienced similar conflicts ourselves, or at least have a family member or friend who've gone through something similar. What makes it so interesting is that these are folks who, on the surface, probably have it pretty good. They live in the suburban United States and aren't really worrying about things like putting food on the table or searching for shelter. Very first-world problems. But it's a testament to the fact that despite having the basics, if we don't have stable familial relationships, the threads all too often start to wear. And of course, this film very adeptly succeeds at making it funny and relatable. 

Parenthood was a huge success with both audiences and critics. On a $20 million budget, it earned $126 million at the global box-office. The film was also a critical darling, with a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and a Metacritic score of 82, indicating "universal acclaim." Wiest deservedly scored Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for her performance. I had thought at first that Meryl might have been a bit young for this role. Wiest is only a little over a year older than she is, but the mother of a seventeen year-old seemed a stretch for Meryl in 1989. She would've been 39 at the time of filming. But having kids in your early 20s wasn't nearly as young-seeming in the early 70s as it is these days. It actually might have been something that helped inform Meryl's performance had she found herself among the amazing ensemble cast members of this film. 



  1. A great movie! I could easily see Meryl in this role.

    For my 1989 choice I decided I would have loved to see her play opposite both Sean Connery and Harrison Ford in a movie I love from my childhood "Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade".

    Not only did the role call for glamour, seductiveness and guile, it would also have been a great opportunity for Meryl to show off her skills in an action movie, in a movie her kids no doubt would have loved to watch her in!

    1. I love The Last Crusade! And I always thought Elsa was SOOOO pretty when I was little. Meryl in this role would've been similar to Cate Blanchett in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.