If being a parent now is tough with how far the world’s changed in 20 years, think how much harder it must be to be grandparents? Drawing from personal experience as a grandfather of 3, lead actor Billy Crystal, plays Artie Decker, who’s been cornered into babysitting his daughter Alice’s (Marisa Tomei) 3 kids for a week.
His wife Diane (Bette Midler), who dragged him into this, sees this as a shot to reconnect with her estranged kin and to claim a space on the mantelpiece in Alice’s home, which is full of photographs of Phil’s parents with the grandchildren.
You’d think that with 2 comedic heavyweights like the funniest serial Oscar awards host Crystal and Midler, the rich joke material from the clash of generations and different parenting norms should lead to an unforgettable family comedy.
Unfortunately, coming out of Hollywood retirement (he was last in America’s Sweethearts in 2001 while she starred in Bette Midler in Concert: Diva Las Vegas in 1997) wasn’t such a good idea for them. Not when you see Crystal reduced to being the target of children’s practical jokes and slapstick routines such as having his face painted in neon colours while he sleeps and getting whacked forcibly in the privates by a little league baseball bat.
In between these desperate and not funny gags, Crystal, who is also one of the movie’s producers, slips in a commentary on new school parenting. Tough love, the grandparents’ find, no longer has a place where children never learn to deal with victory or loss because all ball games “end in a tie”. The whole politically correct mollycoddling probably results in the record number of people who audition for American Idol and who are genuinely clueless about how bad they sound.
Hitting his 60s, Artie Decker (Billy Crystal of When Harry Met Sally) was given the boot from his long-time job as a radio announcer for a minor baseball league, purely because of his lack of a social media presence.
The final straw came when his response to his young boss about Twitter went something like, “Tweet? I’ll tweet, I’ll chirp, I’ll make any animal sound you want!” underscoring his ignorance of social media platforms and thus costing him his career.
All self-worth lost, Artie wasn’t too keen when his daughter, Alice (Marisa Tomei of Crazy, Stupid, Love.) called asking if he and could babysit her 3 children for a week while she and her husband, Phil Simmons (Tom Everett Scott of That Thing You Do) were out of town.
Just 1 week of babysitting will show both Artie and Diane how widely disparate their ideas on parenting are from that of their daughter and son-in-law, who are your textbook indulgent, hypersensitive and over-protective parents.
Their brood makes for a rowdy bunch with their own problems. Eldest pre-pubescent daughter, Harper Simmons (Bailee Madison of Just Go With It) is a nervous wreck as the violin auditions draw closer, while middle child Turner’s (Joshua Rush) stutter makes him a target for bullies in school. Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) insists everyone treat his imaginary kangaroo friend as a normal person. Being the youngest, he’s the most pampered, and also the most stubborn.
No wonder Artie and Diane found themselves treading water in their second chance at parenting.
However, several one-on-one moments of each individual grandchild with both Artie and Diane changed just that, like when Diane stood up to Harper’s demanding music instructor, or when Artie helped Turner overcome his bullying problem and Barker in overcoming the imaginary friend. This made the grandchildren appreciate them a lot more and giving Alice and Phil a different outlook on parenting.
The movie is reminiscent of family-themed holiday movies like all-time favourite Home Alone and Meet the Parents. It may not be as memorable as the two movies mentioned, due to the lackluster humour in the movie. It was saved only by the laudable acting of the three children that would not fail to bring a smile to your face. Crystal and Midler were both great in their element but at certain parts the humour came across as a little slapstick, like when Crystal was hit in the groin by an elementary schooler. Tomei played her role well as an overly-worried mother, but the role of her on-screen husband, Scott, was under-utilised – almost coming across as a filler for the movie.
Parental Guidance draws more attention on the challenges of the present-day grandparent, deriving inspiration from producer Crystal’s “real-life experience caring for his own granddaughters”.
All in all, Parental Guidance is neither an abysmal flop, nor an A-grade movie but one thing for sure is that it is a hard-to-hate movie given that the somewhat slapstick humour was well made up for by the commendable acting by the children and of course the appearance of two veteran comedians, Midler and Crystal. Parental Guidance might just find a place in family gatherings and festive seasons in future.
The thing about the title is you never know if they mean that Artie and Diane are the ones receiving or giving parental guidance. Does it matter?
•Movie name: Parental Guidance
•Release Date: 3 Jan 2013
•Runtime: 104 minutes
•Censorship Rating: PG
•Director: Andy Fickman
•Main actors: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei