In a time when we’re surrounded by so many problems – a struggling economy, natural disasters, and violence in places we thought were safe – it helps to refocus on what’s really important: Family. The latest film to echo the theme of family values is director Andy Fickman’s PARENTAL GUIDANCE, a multi-generational comedy that follows one family as they try to reconnect in a world filled with distractions and disconnections. In the film, visiting grandparents Artie and Diane (Billy Crystal and Bette Midler) re-ignite a familial bond with their semi-estranged daughter, Alice (Marisa Tomei) and her kids, Harper (Bailee Madison), Turner (Joshua Rush) and Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf). Sweetly funny and charmingly sentimental, it’s a wholesome film all families will enjoy.
As many of you may have noticed, it’s taken thirty years for audiences to see Crystal and Midler together. It also took a few tries for Crystal to play opposite Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei. Crystal explains,
“The three of us are all attached in an interesting way. We’ve known each other for years. When this came down it seemed so natural. As soon as she [Midler] said ‘yes,’ we were married. She’d eat off my plate. She wouldn’t let me drive. Marisa and I met in 1991, when she came in to read with me and for me for MR. SATURDAY NIGHT to play my wife. She’s an amazing actress but was too young for that particular part opposite me. When I called her for this she said, ‘Now I’m too old.’”
When you get two comedians together, lots of ace material is bound to end up on the cutting room floor. Fickman speaks highly of the entire cast’s whip-smart dynamic.
“So much of the movie was improv’d as you put them together and funny things are gonna happen. But that’s what happened with the three of them [points to kids]. Everyone would come up with stuff that wasn’t on the page.”
Both Crystal and Midler have a fun song and dance number to The Monotone’s “Book of Love.” Shockingly, it almost didn’t make it into the film. Crystal says,
“We would sing for the kids to keep them occupied some times. We were in the subway in Atlanta where it echoes against the tile. We did “Book of Love” and I turned to her and said, ‘We should find a place to sing together in the movie.’ She didn’t want to do it because she was worried it would be Bette Midler time.”
Midler chimes in,
“I thought it would break the truth of the character. What shreds of truth there was (laughs).”
The bond each of the adult co-stars shares with the kids feels incredibly effortless – even when the kids are fighting the grandparents tooth and nail. Cultivating the special bond came fairly easy says Tomei.
“After the Chinese restaurant scene where we all chimed in to the kids because we were trying to help get them focused and get a rhythm with the whole family. We realized we had only Andy to speak to them. We were confusing them. They were enthusiastic and so smart, but we only needed one person to talk to them. For me, I just found my moments in time with each of them.”
Fickman says of the cast’s bond,
“Bette had the kids out there dancing and singing. And Marisa and Tom were like the parents. It was a very tight group as a family filming all day long in that house. You could really see the grandparents and the parents act together.”
“Billy was just like a grandpa to me. I could just be waiting for my next scene and he would just come over and put his arm around me.”
In the film, Rush has a stutter. In order to nail that impediment truthfully, he worked with a speech therapist.
“It came naturally to me, but I worked with some coaches to fine tune it.”
Fickman explains further.
“They were incredibly impressed with his talent. It may be one of the greatest compliments we’ve gotten from early screenings from kids and adults who’ve dealt with stuttering their whole life. They were amazed because they thought in real life Josh was a stutterer. They were touched by his portrayal.”
Crystal also gives high praise for Rush knocking it out of the park.
“He did a reading in front of the executives and when he gets to moment we refer to as ‘The Kid’s Speech,’ he just nailed it. I could see Tom Rothman crying. It’s such a powerful moment.”
Fickman and his cast wrecked at least 24 cakes to capture a chaotic, sugar-fueled madness that is “The Cake Scene.” The affable director says,
“Those cakes are movie cakes in that there’s a filling in it that makes it not melt. It was all still delicious.”
“It was yummy! I had cake in my hair and I would just grab it out of my hair, rub it in my hands, and lick my hands.”
Madison chimes in,
“That’s the first scene where my character loses all her composure which is fun to do. When you’re playing such an uptight character, to actually just let lose and go crazy was great. I’ve never growled in my life either.”
Tomei also enjoyed that day on set.
“That was such a fun scene. I always wanted to have a cake planted in my face. We were excited about it all together, but just like with real cake it starts making you crashing and a little crazy. The very first time we did it, we hoped to aim it just right. But when I pulled that cake, and it flipped right over my head and didn’t touch me at all. It landed right on the refrigerator.”
However, all good things come to an end as the kids did eventually get sick of it. Fickman says,
“The kid fantasy of eating cake all day sounds great. But about five hours in Kyle and Josh, they would be looking at cake like it was brussel sprouts.”
In the film, Tomei, Madison, Rush and Breitkopf live in quite the high-tech household with an electronic device monitoring their every move. While the general consensus from the kids in the film is that they love and can’t live without their iPads, in real life, Crystal and Midler aren’t so keen on technology ruling their every move. Midler says,
“It’s a boon and a horror show too. You have to keep up and it drives you nuts. But some of it is quite interesting. It’s a tool like any other tool, but it can not take over your life. You have to control it and not have it control you.”
Crystal says of his iPhone,
“It’s great as a grandparent because you’ve gotta be called. But I hate seeing families in restaurants when no one’s talking with these things. They text the waiter what they want. They look so sad. The art of conversation is gone. The art of penmanship is gone. What kills me – besides the lack of interaction – is people walking around town with head down. We have a world looking down!”
Naturally a film about and titled PARENTAL GUIDANCE, made the talented ensemble think about what their parents taught them. Tomei says,
“I never got a sit down kind of guidance. My dad did put a lot of time teaching me the lindy. And somehow in that time of partner dancing, and he really thought it was important. That will stay with me.”
Madison says her Mom’s best advice was
“Stay humble. My mom says the day that I change is the day we have the U-haul packed to go back to Florida.”
Breitkopf, who plays the youngest member of the family and who’s now seven-year-old, says,
“Just be yourself. Don’t try to be anyone who you’re not…unless you have to have a funny voice or something.”
“I didn’t get any guidance except ‘Be a nurse or a teacher. Don’t go into show business.’ My dad was very conservative.”
“When I got out of college at NYU, and The Vietnam War was raging, [my mother] said, ‘You should really take clarinet lessons. So in case you get drafted, you can play in the band.’”
PARENTAL GUIDANCE opens nationwide on December 25.