Old-school grandfather Artie (Billy Crystal), who is
accustomed to calling the shots, meets his match when he and his
eager-to-please wife Diane (Bette Midler) agree to babysit their
three grandkids when the parents Alice & Phil (Marisa Tomei, Tom
Everett Scott) have to go away on business. But when 21st century
problems collide with Artie and Diane's old-school methods of
tough rules, lots of love and old-fashioned games, it's a recipe
for disaster - or change.
Billy Crystal and Bette Midler playing
grandpa and grandma is in itself a funny picture, although only
as a comic sketch. Well, there are several comic sketches in
Parental Guidance, the idea on which it rests proving harder to
maintain for 104 minutes as a large screen, large laugh movie.
The premise of a sort of culture clash between old school
and new age parenting is full of promise, but the screenplay
largely fails to exploits the possibilities.
digital gadgetry is used - like the voice activated computerised
home - to symbolise the young parents' addiction to the digital
age, feeding into their new age principles of parenting which
disallows "don't" in favour of "consider the consequences" even
for seven year olds.
Indeed, the film makes a point of
poking fun at the pompous, self important and hyper-careful world
where children are so protected from life's risks - even
competition at sport - that they cannot form any protective
behaviours for later life. This relevant and important point is
barely engaged as the film pursues often shallow and plastic
scenes in search of cheap laughs.
But there are some
redeeming scenes in which life truths are in evidence, where real
pain is fleetingly felt as the underpinning of the humour. Most
of these involve Crystal as a not-quite-crusty gran who keeps
making the wrong decisions, but for all the right reasons.
Crystal has done better work, but then he is constrained by the
script, which he tries to overcome through his natural screen
Bette Midler has similar obstacles to make her
grandma a real, full bloodied, multidimensional character, but
she gets close. Both Marissa Tomei and Tom Everett as young mum
and dad - and she as the oldies' daughter - deliver perfunctory
performances, while it's the three kids who turn out to be the
acting cavalry, with fine and credible performances, each
different, each satisfying.
Baseball is the primary
reference for the action, but the film draws on several other
American cultural touchstones to try and hit home runs for its
domestic audience - families.
The film's biggest sin is
overstatement, which it commits repeatedly, undermining the
occasional high points. The best part for me is the scene near
the end which mirrors the opening scene of Crystal as 'Da Voice',
the longtime commentator on the baseball game in his home town.
The difference between the two scenes is like the arc of a
rainbow, perhaps with less gold but more reality at the tail end.
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PARENTAL GUIDANCE (PG)
CAST: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Bailee Madison, Madison Lintz, Tom Everett Scott, Christine Lakin, Rhoda Griffis, Gedde Watanabe, Joshua Rush, Kyle Harrison Breitkopf
PRODUCER: Billy Crystal, Peter Chernin, Samantha Sprecher
DIRECTOR: Andy Fickman
SCRIPT: Lisa Dario, Joe Syracuse, rewrite by Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mendel
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dean Semler
EDITOR: Kent Beyda
MUSIC: Marc Shaiman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: David J. Bomba
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2012