Parental Guidance – 2012

Director Andy Fickman
Starring Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Bailee Madison, Kyle Harrison Breitkopf, Joshua Rush
Screenplay Lisa Addario, Joe Syracuse

Almost every ounce of my being made me want to resist this movie.  But not all of them.  Thank goodness for that.  There is a lot of talent on the screen in Parental Guidance, and to be honest, a fair amount of it flutters in the wind.  When the youngest grandson asks if he Artie Duncan (Crystal) “Can I call you Fartie?” for instance.  My kids, age  7 and 10, howled with laughter.  If they weren’t there, I may not have finished the film.  Thank goodness for their laughter, innocently based on the thought of flatulence.

There is a limit to the appeal of body function humor for those who have moved out of their parent’s home.  Wisely, there was a limit to it for Adario, Syracuse and Fickman.  Parental Guidance is the type of film that Adam Sandler messes up 3 times a year.  It’s not that he can’t do better work, it’s just until recently he hasn’t had to.  Bette Midler and Billy Crystal are past the point where their cache can push through sub par material.  It’s been at least a decade for both, if you don’t count cartoons.  The material they meet in this film is only somewhat worthy of their comedic abilities, but their ability to turn on a dramatic moment and line it into left field is put to excellent use.

The story is that of “the other grandparents,” a lot like the John Candy was “the other uncle” in Uncle Buck.  We are not breaking new ground here.  An important difference is that, as the parents, Tomei and Tom Everett Scott are actually decent actors who have a certain amount of nuance.  Bailee Madison, as the oldest, daughter Harper also is an accomplished actress for her 12 years at time of filming.

The movie is a series of set ups for later events that really seem routine from the outset.  The last half hour, with a few exceptions, really comes off pretty well.  Of particular importance are the scenes involving Crystal and Tomei, then Tomei with Madison.  The rest of the resolutions are pleasantly surprising  in particular Joshua Rush’s Bobby Thompson moment.  Midler is more even throughout, even if she never really gets scenery she can chew on.  She certainly does not have any low moments.

Parental Guidance does have several genuine teaching moments for the family.  The script is deceptively strong and with the acting, resolutely heartfelt.  My fear was that watching this might just be a waste of time.  There is no need for another Analyze That or Stepford Wives.  Good Lord, they have not a lot lately.  It looks like they waited for the right story.  So, for that matter, did Long Duk Dong.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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