Wednesday, January 02, 2013

parental guidance

It's easy to dismiss the latest effort from Billy Crystal, Parental Guidance, as just another shtick-filled effort from someone who is famous for, well shtick. And there are jokes as old as the Catskills to be found. But there is also something else going on. Parental Guidance is not just for the geezers. Crystal and Bette Midler, who plays his wife, although they are pretending to be at least a decade younger than their actual ages, may still fill some seats from the 70+ crowd, but the movie is a family comedy that has a little bit for every generation. Grandparents will relate to he ageism subplot, while possibly being as confused as Crystal's character at some of the pop references. Parents will laugh at the extreme version of helicopter parenting on display by Crystal and Midler's daughter, played by Marisa Tomei, and her husband, played by Tom Everettt Scott. Kids will love the three kids.

(Grand) parenting is tougher than you think
The main gist of the story follows Artie Decker (Crystal), a minor league baseball announcer who loves his job, but still dreams of announcing for the Giants. When Artie is fired because he is too "old school," his wife Diane seizes at the chance to get to know her grandchildren better. She is sick of being the "other grandparents" and agrees to babysit the kids for a week while their daughter Alice (Tomei) and her husband Phil (Scott) are away. Alice has tried to distance herself and her family from her parents — her issues seem to be mostly with dear old dad, who simply wasn't around much during her formative years. Alice and Phil live in a Jetsons-like house which greets everyone by name on entry and even makes them breakfast. Who's less involved with whose kids?

The hazards of attachment parenting
Parental Guidance is one of those movies that has a lot of jokes that hit or miss. Probably more miss than hit, but that isn't really the point. It's a chance to see some actors we like skirt (ever-so-lightly) over some issues we can connect to. Whether a viewer has kids or not, no one ever seems to hesitate to have an opinion over how someone else raises their kids — it's highly relatable. And the kids' antics are amusing, for the most part. We know their bad behavior will eventually improve after exposure to the older generation. More proof that Parental Guidance is geared towards the kids than their grannies: the humor is frequently of the potty variety.

Billy Crystal shockingly gives some of the best ba-dump-bump comeback lines to Better Midler. Marisa Tomei's close-ups display a beautiful actress who has freckles and gasp (!) a few wrinkles and hasn't succumbed to Hollywood's omnipresent facial reconstruction (here's hoping she stays strong.) Director Andy Fickman was smart enough to include a musical number for Midler (and Crystal), as well as a few other opportunities for her to break into song. Too bad they didn't push it even further in that direction. So many movies these days pile on the special effects or thrill us with their life-like computer animation. Sometimes it's a relief to see something with the kid that's a bit old school. It's not a rom-com, or a fantasy, or a "meaningful" drama. It's just a few laughs at some silly people in even sillier situations.
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