Movie review: Generational lines split over 'Parental Guidance'
December 25, 2012 10:00 AM
Photo: Phil Caruso
Billy Crystal and Bette Midler in "Parental Guidance."
By Barbara Vancheri Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When Artie Decker (Billy Crystal) is told the Fresno Grizzlies, a minor-league baseball team, needs an announcer who tweets, he's eager to oblige.
"I'll tweet. I'll make whatever noises you want." Cue the snare drum.
His boss, of course, is talking Twitter, not twitter, and Artie is fired from the job he loves in the comedy "Parental Guidance." The technological and parental bends really set in when he and wife Diane (Bette Midler) agree to baby-sit their three grandchildren in Atlanta when their only child, Alice (Marisa Tomei), and her husband, Phil (Tom Everett Scott), need to go out of town.
Cultures clash the minute the grandparents arrive, toting super soaker toys and Artie Decker bobbleheads, at the couple's fully automated, voice-activated smart house. "We don't do guns," Alice says, while her youngest is creeped out by the shrunken plastic head of his grandpa going up and down.
The littlest one is a hellion with an imaginary kangaroo friend who gets his own chair when the family goes to restaurants. His 8-year-old brother is taunted by a school bully because he stutters, while their sister is a tightly wound 12-year-old who aspires to become a professional violinist.
After some false starts, Artie and Diane are left alone with the children, and missteps and miscues begin, with one lapse in judgment even landing on the news.
The California couple indulge, protect and discipline the children as they try to share the joys of simple pleasures and shed their self-described role as "the other grandparents" in this aggressively old-fashioned movie.
Instead of being a golden oldie, though, it's often moldy. The story seems like an elongated TV sitcom -- watch the boys taste sugar for the first time and nearly lose their minds -- with opportunities for Ms. Midler to briefly sing and Mr. Crystal to dust off some favorite jokes and celebrate the call of one of baseball's most famous home runs not involving Bill Mazeroski.
Anyone who ever endorsed or scoffed at baseball games where no one keeps score (except the parents in the stands) or rolled their eyes as children were told to "use their words" can appreciate the creative spark of the screenplay. There's also a note of truth in Diane's reminder to her daughter: "After your kids grow up, your husband is the one who stays."
It's the anti-"Seinfeld," which adhered to a "no hugging, no learning" mantra. In a movie such as this -- aimed at families looking for something rated PG, about 90 minutes and neither animated nor 3-D -- you can guarantee there will be hugs, lessons, some tears and a few laughs. Too few.
"Parental Guidance" is the movie equivalent of store-bought cookies chock-full of preservatives designed to extend shelf life. You may crave fresh-from-the-oven treats inspired by an old family recipe, but they'll do in a pinch.