The inoffensive but bland Parental Guidance is a nice throwback for families. And that's the problem.
There was a time when nice live-action family comedies ruled the movie theaters. Forget about well-made, Oscar nominated-fare - we're talking about films you could sit your kids in front of for a good laugh while still appealing to mom and dad with hidden sexual innuendos. Parenthood, Father of the Bride, Christmas Vacation, and Home Alone became instant classics that extended the careers of Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and other mid-aged actors desperately looking for paychecks. Today, many of these films feel antiquated and down-right tedious with their gags falling flat and the cuteness factor reminding us of cheesy schmaltz. I'm not sure what has caused us to look so negatively at these used-to-be classics, but they've certainly not held up. Parental Guidance finds itself a potential victim of the times in which we live, an inoffensive but mostly bland production that would have been very funny back in 1992.
After Artie (Billy Crystal, When Harry Met Sally) loses his job announcing a minor league baseball team, he and wife Diane (Bette Midler, For the Boys) get a phone call from their daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler) who needs the grandparents to watch their kids while she and husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott, That Thing You Do) accept an award in Atlanta. Artie and Diane are as old-school as they get, out of touch with modern society on every level and earning the moniker 'the other grandparents' from Diane. On the other extreme are Phil and Alice, whose 'helicopter' parental style has them absolutely involved in every aspect of their children's upbringing. This effort yields a stuttering Turner (Joshua Rush), a rambunctious Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), and the overachiever Turner (Bailee Madison). They're not allowed to eat sugar, and must say 3 nice things when in an argument. Thus, our generational dysfunction is set in motion, as Artie and Alice struggle to adapt with not only the kids but with Phli and Diane's ultra-modern house. As several manufactured deadlines present themselves, the multi-generational cast must work together to solve them without killing each other or getting arrested by the police.
Director Andy Fickman (Race to Witch Mountain) crafts a fairly uninspired concoction, with a tolerable outer skin that's mostly thin of imagination at its dull center. The script by Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse (Surf's Up) feels dead on arrival, complete with a series of gags that would have been funny 20 years ago. Stipper poles for old people? Seen that before. Vomit and pee? That's so New Girl. Midler and Crystal are funny enough, and our young actors do a fair job squinting, shrugging, and smirking for the camera - but like every movie involving kids, their antics soon get old, leaving us to wish the grandparents would have employed the highly effective wooden spoon as a behavioral adjustment tool. Still, the film has its moments, such as Artie's efforts to get Barker to go #2 in a disgusting bathroom. There's also the surprising decision to deny Artie his dream job of announcing for the Giants, forced instead to tutor Turner with his aspirations of becoming an announcer himself. This would have been unthinkable in previous family movies, but it's good someone had the strength to insert it. But by the time we get there, we're no longer emotionally involved, content to let our three generations of family members enjoy the rest of their white-picket fence lives that seem so detached from our own.
Considering the vast amounts of schmaltz thrown into Guidance, one cannot help but draw comparisons to those 1990's Steve Martin comedies. And that's the problem, because we've become so desensitized in our comedic limits that Guidance just feels out of place. Hollywood has stooped so low that clean family films no longer seem to have a place. Had it come out 20 years ago, it might have been hailed as one of the great family films of that time. In ours however, it's slow, overly sentimental, and even tedious at points.11
Parental Guidance reminds us of what funny family films used to look like, but its execution fails on too many levels to recommend it. As the credits begin to roll, showing old photos of our actors and their families, we're reminded just how nice this film wants to be, but how utterly out of time it feels. If this film is meant to inspire better relationships with our grandparents, it could have done it so much better and still retain its PG rating. Given these shortcomings, I can't recommend it beyond a rainy-day video on the couch. Parental Guidance is rated PG for language and adult situations, and has a runtime of 104 minutes.
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