Directed by: Andy Fickman
Written by: Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse
Starring: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Bailee Madison, Joshua Rush, Kyle Harrison Breitkropf
Parenting is a difficult task. You never know if what you’re doing is helping or harming your child. Every Mom and Dad guides their child differently, all seeming to know what’s best. Yeah, I’m looking at you, unsolicited advice givers. Lately, there’s been a clash between the older generation’s ways (of spanking and rigid discipline) and the new school way of thinking (discussion and reasoning with children as tiny grown-ups). The latest film to explore slippery familial dynamics is director Andy Fickman’s PARENTAL GUIDANCE. The family-values-minded, multi-generational comedy follows one family as they struggle to reconnect in a world full of disconnections and distractions. And dear readers, if you’ve seen the trailer, it’s exactly what you think it is. Sweetly funny and charmingly sentimental, it’s a wholesome film all families will enjoy.
Artie and Diane Decker (Billy Crystal and Better Midler) are happy-if-not-bored, longtime marrieds. A perfect storm of events occurs after Artie is fired as “de voice” of Fresno’s minor league baseball team, and their somewhat estranged daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei) and her husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott) reluctantly call asking them to watch their three overachieving, overscheduled and overindulged children: high-strung Harper (Bailee Madison), bullied stutterer Turner (Joshua Rush), and out-of-control Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkropf). Much to Artie’s chagrin, Diane literally answers the call deciding this is the perfect time to try something new – grandparenting! Off to Atlanta they go, where the pair encounter more than they bargained for as the rules of running a household have changed and the battle between old school versus new school parenting begins.
A large percent of PARENTAL GUIDANCE’s charm floats on Crystal and Midler’s undeniable chemistry. The effervescent pair are comedy gold and absolutely sparkle – it’s just a shame the material isn’t a bit tighter. They are a comedic force of nature as they trade witty barbs back and forth like they were married. And as you’d imagine (given each are talents known for their stage presence), the dynamic duo exude a natural ease when they perform a little song and dance number to The Monotones’ “Book of Love.” Tomei and Midler are also given a cute mother-daughter ditty that makes their relationship feel authentic and genuine.
The script by the married-with-kids screenwriting team of Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse sufficiently taps into the modern world of parenting that eschews discipline for conversation. While I don’t fully agree with all of the new ways presented here (and it plays out in one of the film’s more maddening sequences set at the symphony), the film presents a heartfelt blend of the pros and cons of both sides of the debate and encourages viewers to find their own way. They’ve also managed to play with the intensely relatable theme of the parent-child relationship; every parent was once a child and most children are destined to become parents. It’s a film that has universal appeal and potential for thought-provoking conversations. Even though it doesn’t really expand on what’s already in our zeitgeist, it’s a sweet message to stay present with your family.
Young kids will enjoy Crystal’s pratfalls (that mostly revolve around the actor getting either a bat to or soaked in the crotch) and also the naughty behavior exhibited by Barker. Take that for what you will, grown-ups! A lot of the film’s gentler jokes revolve around how old people can’t use technology. That’s all fine and good, but it’s not revolutionary in terms of comedy nor are there any layered laughs built into the predictable, formulaic script. It’s a shame that the filmmakers couldn’t have gone a little more bold here, perhaps utilizing Phil and Alice’s HAL 9000-esque R-life butler system in a more clever manner, but I suppose you can only go so far to attain a family-friendly PG rating. Another annoyance is Marc Shaiman’s pushy, overbearing score – it may even strike some savvy filmgoers as bordering on parody.
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. And this film gives us a chance to do just that. So gather the family for hijinks, hilarity and heart this holiday season.