Great Scenes: “Garry Calls His Dad” from PARENTHOOD

THE SETUP: Troubled teenager Garry (Joaquin Phoenix) summons the courage to ask his mother Helen (Dianne Wiest) permission to call his estranged father and ask if he can move in with him for a few months. Although Helen tries to persuade Garry not to follow through, she reluctantly gives Garry his father’s work-number, which he immediately dials. Within seconds, Garry’s excitement over the possibility of being reunited with his dad transforms into heartbreak. Helen can only sit back and watch as her son learns a painful life lesson about love and expectations.

THE SCENE:

 

WHY IT’S GREAT: Ron Howard’s box office hit dramedy Parenthood examines a group of families attempting to persevere amidst the unavoidable challenges and tragedies that are always eventually guaranteed by the decision to create life. Of course, that’s a pretty grim assessment of the movie’s overall theme, since most people associate the movie with Steve Martin making balloon animals while dressed like a cowboy. Although the movie is indeed laced with enough memorable humor to justify its categorization as a comedy, this scene – which exists at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum – k  always stands out for me.

Of course the heart and soul of the scene lies in the performance of the then-15 year-old Joaquin Phoenix. The young actor triumphs with his ability to create such a realistic sense of vulnerability. Then there’s Dianne Wiest, whose work in this commercially-accessible “hit” equals that found in the movies for which she won Academy Awards. Wiest must do two things at once: A) She expresses the penetrating sadness a mother must feel when her son tells her he wants to leave her household. B) She summons the strength to allow her son to take a chance that, although she knows will result in defeat, she knows he must take if he wants to actually learn something about the sometimes-harsh realities of life.

Fortunately, Garry later gets the father figure he so deeply desires, albeit in the unlikely form of Todd, played by Keanu Reeves in one of the warmest, most-underrated performances of his career.

I was 7 years old when this movie was initially released, and – at the time – my parents wouldn’t let me see it. I didn’t understand, since the previews offered the aforementioned hilarity of Steve Martin in a cowboy suit. Of course, I now see why they wanted me to wait a little while to see Parenthood. Although laugh-inducing comedy pervades throughout, the movie contains some of the most genuine portrayals of what it really means to be part of a family that we’ve ever seen in cinema. For me, this scene supports that idea.