Release Date: December 25, 2012
Director: Andy Fickman
Stars: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei
Runtime: 105 min
Tagline: Here come the grandparents. There go the rules.
Artie (Billy Crystal) has just finished up a season as being “De Voice” of the local minor league baseball team, the Grizzlies. Much to his dismay, he gets fired because the team wants someone younger and more modern, preferrably someone who has made social updates on Twitter and Facebook. Soon, he and his wife, Diane (Bette Midler), get asked to look after their three grand kids because their parents need to go out of town. The mother, Alice (Marisa Tomei), stays home for a little longer than expected, and Artie and Diane’s old-school parenting skills collide with Alice and Phil’s 21st-century parenting skills. Chaos soon ensues, but Artie might finally get to live his dream of being the voice for the San Francisco Giants (and keep using his signature sign-off of “Lights out, Alice”). As this film teaches, it’s all about meeting halfway and learning to bend that binds a family together.
Parental Guidance may be a film with good intentions, but the target audience is unclear. Are the children supposed to enjoy it more, or are the adults? It passes itself as a family comedy, but the humour is hard to find in a few areas. A film that resorts to hitting a character in the balls with a baseball bat, and then have that said character throw up on the young child, isn’t exactly funny, it’s simply immature. Still, there are a few yuks to be had, and it’s at least a little funnier than The Guilt Trip.
The family comedy’s intention is to express that grandparents and parents must come to an understanding of how to deal with their children. This is also a film about second chances, because Artie and Diane did a poor job with their children, so they want to do it better with the grandchildren. However, this is going to appear difficult, as the grandkids don’t know them well, they think of them as the “other” grandparents. This family comedy is simply redundant, because there are other, better comedies to express afamily connectedness round the holidays (like This is 40). It also redundant because themes it tries to explore, like the parent feeling abandoned by their children or vice-versa, have already been explored in features like This is 40 and Trouble with the Curve. There are laughs, but a lot of the feature is tedious. There is one scene where a character has a sort of self-realization moment, which is supposed to be sentimental, but it was so tedious that it made two minutes feel like seven. The performer is loud and boring, and that isn’t a good combination for any working actor. There has never been a time during a film where I would have just loved a baseball bat to my grapes instead of watching the scene.
The three kids are silly, but the charismatic Bailee Madison makes the best of her character. Harper, the character Madison portrays, is a tightly-wound violinist trying to get into a competitive musical arts school. She just wants to live a little, with her mother pushing her the most. Turner (Joshua Rush) is the stuttering middle child who gets bullied at school. Finally, we have Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), a kid who wants to be bribed by Farty (his nickname for Artie) and has an imaginary Kangaroo friend, Carl.
Artie and Diane try to bring in their old-school parenting skills, but the writer should have expressed that conflicts can’t be solved with cake, ten dollars and letting the kid watch some torture porn horror. Any conflict that comes also gets resolved in about seven minutes or less. The writer makes most characters have what Hollywood calls self-realization/overcoming obstacles moments, and most of them are sweet and are nice attempts as being sentimental. Others are just tedious and irritating. The story is also nothing you’ve seen 102 times before, and about four times already this year. A main problem with this is performers with no charm. Billy Crystal is the most charming and the funniest. Bette Midler is a one-joke woman, and just because she gestures and does facial a lot doesn’t mean she’s a good actress, or even fun to watch. Admittedly, Crystal and Midler do have a decent-enough chemistry. Marisa Tomei and Bailee Madison (who really is a great young actress) are the only other performers that are easy to watch. Tomei and her husband, played by Tom Everett Scott, have one really bad inside joke they share. Tomei may just have had better chemistry with the young Barker’s imaginary kangaroo friend, Carl. It doesn’t help the film that Barker and Turner aren’t charismatic. They’re cute, sure, but they’re loud and annoying. They’re miniature, manipulative demons, and their presence gets irritating quickly. Can’t you tell how bratty they are from the poster?
In a nutshell: There are quite a few yuks in Parental Guidance, mostly given to you by Billy Crystal, and a Chinese restaurant owner, Mr. Cheng (Gedde Watanabe), but there should be more than one funny character and another supporting funny character with three minutes of screen time. For all the sweet or good moments, there’s a failed sentimental moment. It’s a sub-par family comedy with good intentions that doesn’t work well, and it is merely bearable because of the great Billy Crystal. It might bring in some real-life issues, but it’s still a predictable, sometimes tedious, and familiar ride to the old ball game. This is De Voice of Daniel’s Film Reviews saying: Lights out, Alice.