DVD Release Date: March 26, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: December 25, 2012
Rating: PG for some rude humor
Genre: Comedy
Run Time: 104 min.
Director: Andy Fickman
Actors: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Bailee Madison, Joshua Rush, Kyle Harrison Breitkopf, Gedde Watanabe

Some of us were blessed to know our grandparents when we were young. If they lived nearby, visits happened with some regularity. If they lived far away, you would likely see them on holidays and special occasions. Sometimes you’d go to your grandparents’ place, and sometimes they’d come to your house.

Then there were the special times when you were dropped off with the grandparents while mom and dad got away for a special time without the kids. Chances are your parents preferred handing you off to one set of grandparents, and not to the other. No, the other grandparents had other things to do, or maybe they’d simply put their kid-rearing days behind them and weren’t eager to rekindle the “joys” of watching small children.

Parental Guidance, the new film from director Andy Fickman (You Again, She’s the Man) and the writers behind Ella Enchanted and Legally Blonde, is a tepid tale about those other grandparents. In this case, they’re played by Billy Crystal and Bette Midler, recruited by their daughter (Marisa Tomei) and her husband (Tom Everett Scott) to watch their three kids while the younger couple takes their first vacation in five years. Every step of the film is utterly predictable, but for those who like the same ol’ same ol’, Parental Guidance is relatively inoffensive in terms of content while having a little fun at the expense of ridiculous contemporary parenting philosophies. That’s not something that really cries out for a $12 ticket and a couple hours of your time, but it’s better—just barely—than nothing.

Artie Decker (Crystal) is living the dream, or trying to. He’s a minor-league baseball announcer, with thwarted ambitions to call games for the big-league Giants some day. The film opens as Artie wraps up the last game of the season, receives the thanks of a young protégé in the booth (who is promptly dropped from the story, never to be heard from again), and is called into his boss’ office. To his shock, he’s fired. Artie’s on-air shtick is too old-school, and his boss wants fresh blood. Shell-shocked Artie heads home and breaks the news to his wife, Diane, whose spirits are quickly revived by an invitation from their desperate daughter Alice and husband Phil to watch their three kids. Phil has won a special trip through work, but his parents—the “go to” grandparents in the case of Alice and Phil—aren’t available. That leaves just one option.

The grandkids consist of two boys and one girl, each defined by one overriding trait or conflict. The oldest boy stutters and is intimidated by a school bully (Artie encourages him to defend himself, then appears shocked when the boy comes home with a black eye). The girl needs to over-prepare for a big violin audition that could launch her career as a musician, but all she wants to do is put on some makeup and go to a classmate’s party. The youngest son is a tyrant with an imaginary friend.

The parents and other adults in the kids’ lives, we come to find out, cater to the children’s every whim. It’s up to Artie and Diane to draw lines, create boundaries and thereby allow everyone to loosen up a bit.

Crystal and Midler have a long history of playing “big” with their broad attempts at humor. They want you to like them. They really want you to like them. So it’s somewhat surprising that, after the story shifts from Artie and Diane to Alice and Phil, the movie suffers badly. Tomei’s Alice is a thankless role—a helicopter parent who can’t bear to separate herself from her precious children for more than a day. In comparison to the pathetic and unlikable Alice, Artie and Diane’s mugging for the camera and deadpan punchlines come off as at least passable, if not exactly pleasant.

The older couple’s parenting philosophy also carries the day. It’s sensible and not so child-centric that the adults’ lives are consumed by the lives of the kids. Although Artie and Diane have moments of failure in trying to provide basic care for the kids over the course of their visit—Artie unwisely takes the youngest boy to the X Games, while Diane shares one too many stories with her granddaughter about the delights of “getting bombed”—it’s the younger couple who discovers they have more to learn from their elders, rather than the other way around.

Does that make Parental Guidance worth your time? Not at the theater. It is, at best, something to watch on DVD or cable. There’s absolutely nothing about it that cries out for a big screen experience. The film opens on Christmas Day—the same day that Les Miserables, a story of hope, redemption and Christian grace, also debuts at theaters around the country. The preferable choice is obvious. And that’s my parental guidance on the matter.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity: Constipation joke; a grandfather and his grandson sing a song about “Mr. Doody” in order to help the young boy go to the bathroom; daughter tells her mother, “I hate you and wish anyone else were my mother”
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: At 9 a.m., a character says, “I need a martini”; grandmother recounts to her grandchildren a cherished memory about “getting bombed”; wine consumption
  • Sex/Nudity: A “kiss cam” at a minor-league baseball game captures a kiss and a marriage proposal; a kiss lacking passion is said to be a sign that the couple is married; a husband and wife are shown lying bed; a joke about male breast-feeding; a joke about groping during an airport security pat-down; a wet crotch area of a man’s pants gets blow-dried; undoing a seatbelt latch is said to be “more difficult than your grandma’s bra;” a husband and wife kiss; grandmother tells her daughter that the daughter’s husband wants to see her, but “I don’t think he wants you in clothes;” a joke about “melon grabbing”
  • Violence/Crime: A boy and his grandfather watch a clip from one of the Saw horror movies; a blow to a man’s groin area; the man then vomits, and later applies ice to the affected area; a bloody nose; a black eye

Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.

Publication date: December 25, 2012