COMEDY IN “PARENTAL GUIDANCE” PURELY FAMILY FRIENDLY
A Film Review by Tim Riley
PARENTAL GUIDANCE (Rated PG Like most holiday seasons, this year has a few epics and a bunch of passable comedies. In the former category, you’ve got “The Hobbit” and Russell Crowe singing during the 1832 Paris uprising, in a movie nearly as long as the French Revolution itself.
“Parental Guidance” falls into the grouping of the ostensible family comedies suitable for all ages at a time when kids are out of school and everyone is in a festive holiday mood. There was a decent reason to believe that the pairing of Billy Crystal and Bette Midler, as traditional-minded grandparents with love in their hearts and hell-bent for family-oriented fun, would result in more than acceptable entertainment.
To a decent extent, Crystal and Midler bring a generational dimension of old-school parenting to the fore in a way that is alternately amusing and frustrating, the latter more so for their own kids than grandkids. Artie and Diane Decker (Crystal and Midler) have been the type of carefree yet caring parents that proved embarrassing to adult daughter Alice Simmons (Marisa Tomei), now married with three children of her own.
The Deckers live in Fresno, California, where the sports-obsessed, motor-mouthed Artie has been the baseball announcer for the Fresno Grizzlies. Diane is as equally brash and loud as her husband. Meanwhile, Alice and her husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott) live in Atlanta, which is almost as far away as you can get from Fresno while still remaining within the continental United States.
Alice and Phil want to slip away for a week’s convention trip, and Phil’s parents are not available for babysitting duty. As a measure of desperation, they call for help from the “other grandparents.”Possessed of the Type-A parental gene, Alice and Phil are reluctant, to say the least, to turn over their three precious children to parents who may not follow their indulgent ways.
The kids have their own set of issues. The oldest, Harper (Bailee Madison), is pushed constantly to practice her violin. The older son, Turner (Joshua Rush), has a stuttering problem that causes him to be bullied at school.The youngest, Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), is oddly attached to his invisible best friend, a kangaroo named Carl. But Barker is also the cagiest sibling, as he cleverly blackmails his grandpa into forking over hush money.
Before Alice and Phil can even pack their bags, the grandparents clash with the overly protective parents over child-rearing tactics. As a result, Alice becomes a nervous wreck, adding to the discomfort that is mined for comic effect. Phil has designed an ultra-modern home where a computer monitors everyone’s movement, sort of a creepy Big Brother-is-watching surveillance system that decides, on its own power, to disrespect Artie.
Meanwhile, Artie decides to tackle problems with his own blunt methods. For one, he candidly confronts Turner’s speech therapist over her questionable techniques.Since Artie was also recently fired from his announcer job, he makes the unwise choice of taking Barker with him on an audition with ESPN, making a fool of himself for trying to fit in with the extreme sports crowd.
Naturally, the grandparents make a ton of blunders in caring for the grandkids. Though sugar has been banned from the household, Artie figures that the sugary treat of a nice cake won’t do any harm. Big mistake!What’s not a mistake, however, is that the loving grandparents and the kids finally reach a level of familial connection, though it involves something as simple as a backyard game of kick the can.
Artie also helps Turner overcome his stuttering with a clever use of a radio replay of Bobby Thomson’s walk-off home run hit on a pitch by Ralph Branca during the 1951 Giants-Dodgers pennant playoff series. “Parental Guidance” falls into the trap of forging some of its comedy with the formulaic use of certain bodily functions. Apparently, the filmmakers had to resort to juvenile humor to fill the vacuum in a movie that is well short of two hours.
On the other hand, this is a minor quibble with a film that is, for the most part, a family-friendly entertainment that offers plenty of laughs and heartwarming moments.“Parental Guidance” is not a film for jaded cynics. Sure, it is rather generic, but it is a welcome relief to some of the corrosive junk that’s out there.