In Domestic Affairs, Joyce Maynard writes, "So much of the job of parenthood is taken up by mundane concerns, it's easy to lose track of what the whole thing's for, easy to forget there is a meaning and importance to the sum of those tasks that goes way beyond what any one of them appears to possess, viewed all by it itself." Parenthood, a film written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel and directed by Ron Howard, encourages us to ponder the awesome, crazy, powerful, and zany vocation of parenting. And it enables all who experience it to share the frailties, mysteries, and amazements of family life.

Gil (Steve Martin) and Karen (Mary Steenburgen) have three children. When their eldest, Kevin (Jasen Fisher), experiences emotional problems at school, Gil tries to become superdad. He takes over as coach of the Little League team, and at Kevin's birthday party, he entertains the kids by donning a cowboy outfit.

Taking another approach to superparenting is Nathan (Rick Moranis), who's married to Gil's sister Susan (Harley Kozak). Trying to keep his three-year-old daughter on the fast track, he teaches her karate, Kafka, and advanced math. His frustrated wife, an educator, can't do anything to win his attention. When she suggests they go to Mexico on vacation, he sees the trip as an opportunity to teach his daughter Spanish.

Gil's sister Helen (Dianne Wiest) has her hands full as a single parent. Her 16-year-old daughter Julie (Martha Plimpton) runs off and marries Tod (Keanu Reeves). And her 13-year-old son Garry (Leaf Phoenix) rarely speaks. When Tod moves in, he helps draw the family together.

Gil's brother Larry (Tom Hulce) is a 26-year-old wheeler-dealer who shows up with an illegitimate son and a $26,000 gambling debt. His father Frank (Jason Robards), who at 64 thought he was finished with parenting, finds out that it's a lifelong responsibility.

This entertaining film reveals the ups and downs of the emotional roller coaster ride of parenting. Through a veritable smorgasbord of wild and wonderful moments, the ensemble cast reveals what it means to be part of a family. Best of all, Parenthood conveys the special secret that makes it all worthwhile — a secret expressed by Joyce Maynard, again in Domestic Affairs: "I seldom feel like much of an adventurer — standing in this kitchen, pouring cereal into bowls, refilling them . . . But sometimes at night the thought will strike me; there are three small people here, breathing sweetly in their beds, whose lives are for the moment in our hands. I might as well be at the controls of a moonshot, the mission is so grave and vast."