The family-friendliest movie comedy this holiday season is also the sappiest and schmaltziest. And thanks to Billy Crystal, the shtickiest.
Parental Guidance is a mild-mannered riff on parenting, then-and-now. It contrasts the top-down/career-first mentality of one generation with the coddled “nurturing” of today but never takes a stand on which is better. Basically, it’s a vehicle for Billy Crystal, and to a lesser degree Bette Midler, to riff on the spoiled, over-indulged and sometimes uptight kids their kid is raising.
Artie (Crystal) is a minor league baseball announcer who never got to his dream job, covering San Francisco Giants games. He’s content to make homespun wisecracks in front of the mike for the Fresno Grizzlies. Until they lay him off for being not hip, not social media savvy.
His retired “weather girl” wife Diane interrupts her pole-dance aerobics class to comfort him and listen to his lies about how young he “feels.”
Daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei) is a web designer living in Atlanta with husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott) in the totally computerized house Phil designed.
Their kids — 12, 8 and 5 — have play dates, ball games and rehearsals. Violinist daughter Harper (Bailee Madison) would discover boys, if she wasn’t stressing over a big audition that sets up her Berlin Philharmonic life plan. Turner (Joshua Rush) is a bullied stammerer whose little league team doesn’t keep score, denying him the chance to excel at anything. And Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) is a mop-topped terror with an imaginary kangaroo friend.
Into this world come “the other grandparents,” the West Coast couple that never sees them because Artie has been all about the job all his life. They’re not the first choice, but Phil and Alice have a get-away planned, if only Alice can let go. But whatever Artie and Diane did with Alice isn’t good enough for Alice’s kids.
Crystal delivers tepidly caustic rants, Midler invokes the occasional inappropriate life lesson to Harper and Tomei struggles to find anything fun about playing a smothering mother. The laughs are, to use the old-fashioned term, telegraphed, with director Andy Fickman (The Game Plan) clearing the decks to make every laugh line a stale showcase moment for his stars. A quicker, more cluttered movie would have been funnier.
Cast: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Bailee Madison.
Director: Andy Fickman.
Screenwriters: Lisa Addario, Joe Syracuse.
Producers: Peter Chernin, Billy Crystal, Samantha Sprecher.
A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 100 minutes. Some rude humor. Opens today at area theaters.