With Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Gedde Watanabe. Written by Lisa Addario & Joe Syracuse. Directed by Andy Fickman. Rated PG for some rude humor. 104 minutes.
There’s not much in the way of family friendly entertainment for the holidays, especially if the kids have already seen “Rise Of The Guardians” and “Monsters, Inc.” (back in theaters in 3D). PARENTAL GUIDANCE is safe and silly and actually offers a few laughs. It’s not a great film by any means, but it’s something parents and kids (or grandparents and kids) can enjoy together.
Modern parents Phil and Alice Simmons (Tom Everett Scott and Marisa Tomei) have a nice suburban life and three great kids. Their eldest, Harper (Bailee Madison), is just discovering boys but thinks they may distract her from her goal of becoming a violin virtuoso. Turner (Joshua Rush) is sweet kid with a stuttering problem. Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) has an imaginary friend who is a kangaroo. If Phil and Alice have a problem, it’s that they are bit overprotective and a bit lacking in common sense. They love their children but don’t know quite how to be effective parents.
When Phil is called away on a business trip and gets to take Alice along, they invite her parents Artie and Diane (Billy Crystal, Bette Midler) to watch the kids. The problem, as Diane notes, is that they are the “other grandparents” and now they have an opportunity to forge relations with the kids. Of course they are very old school and find many of the progressive rules laid down by Alice to be a bit confining.
You can probably guess how this plays out. Artie and Diane screw up in comical ways, eventually they and the kids bond, and an initially upset Phil and Alice loosen up with Alice getting a new relationship with her own parents. Along the way there are a bit too many bodily function jokes, including Billy Crystal encouraging a constipated Barker by singing a song (for which he receives credit) called “Here Comes Mr. Doody.” Six-year-olds should find this very witty.
Two things are immediately obvious. Midler looks great and has lacked on screen roles for too long. (Her most recent was in the barely-seen remake of “The Women” four years ago.) She’s got all her snap and energy and though the material is slight she runs with it here. Whether it’s doing a duet with Crystal or bonding with her granddaughter, she’s a definite plus. Crystal, on the other hand, is still very funny but looks like his face is trying to eat his body. He’s so puffy that his character is conveyed mostly by his tone of voice and delivery. One can barely make out his expressions.
The kids are typical Hollywood adorable, and Scott and Tomei do what is expected in the secondary roles of the parents. By the end where everyone has learned from each other and is happier for it, you have a nice heartwarming family comedy. What’s nice is that both the kids and the adults have to mature. It’s not just smart kids and stupid parents/grandparents. They all need to grow up a little bit.
“Parental Guidance” may not change your life, but if you have youngsters to entertain this holiday season, it provides some amiable and much needed distraction from the ugliness going on in the real world.***
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide will be released in January 2013. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.