Sunday, February 26, 2006

Steve Martin

We finally watched Cheaper by the Dozen, a 2003 family movie about a couple crazy enough to produce twelve children. It wasn't on my radar in the theatres because I was certain it would be a stinker. That, and I'm sick to death of remakes. But, we did find it at the dollar store for $1.99, so my wife could not pass it up.
I ended up enjoying it. Not a great movie, but it said something to me about family, and kids, and how hard it is to do something so basic as raise a child in today's society.
But what struck me the most was Steve Martin. Just how did this crazy guy go from being The Jerk to America's Dad? From Parenthood to Father of the Bride (another remake I liked anyway) to this, Martin has become the quintessential goofy Dad: struggling to balance work and family and his own neurosis. Back when he was playing banjo onstage with an arrow through his head, who'd of thought?
I think it started with Plains, Trains, and Automobiles, one of the funniest movies of the 80's. Here Martin plays Neal Page, an everydad on the road just trying to get home, stuck in unbelievable situations with bad company. It's a fairly straight role, with bits of Martin zaniness thrown in, and it worked well.
He went on to mine the same shaft in Parenthood, Father of the Bride, and now Cheaper... and their sequels. We relate to Martin because he's aged with us. We remember him, as we remember ourselves, in his goofy days, when he was a wild and crazy guy trying to make it. In a large sense, we root for him because of the chances he's taken. Can you imagine if Plains... had bombed? The critics would have had a heyday, telling us the Martin strayed to far from the arrow through the head. But it didn't, and he didn't. His "everydad" movies show us that we can all have a zany, nutty core to our caring, committed exterior.
Martin continues to succeed in most ventures he tries. Playwright, novelist, screenwriter... Ok, he's still not above the occasional stinker (can you say Bringing Down the House ? Sgt. Bilko?), but by and large he makes things that resonate with today's culture.
I'd like to find some actor out of the past to compare him to, the way people say the Tom Hanks is "our Jimmy Stewart", but I can't really think of someone who has succeeded on as many levels as Steve Martin has.
Having said all of this, my wife still won't sit through "The Jerk" with me. But we've sat through the "Father of..." movies a dozen times. Go figure.
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