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Review: Parental Guidance (2012)

Parental Guidance (2012)

Directed by: Andy Fickman

Premise: A pair of grandparents (Billy Crystal and Bette Midler) spends a week with their grandchildren.

What Works: The few moments in Parental Guidance that do work involve the children acting one-on-one with their grandparents, played by Billy Crystal and Bette Midler. Bailee Madison is notable as the daughter and there are also a few effective moments between Crystal’s character and the boys played by Joshua Rush and Kyle Harrison Breitkopf. When the filmmakers slow down and stop trying to make this a screwball comedy the actors are able to step up their work. Unfortunately, that rarely happens.

What Doesn’t: Parental Guidance plays like an Adam Sandler comedy. The story is structured around the same kind of family movie formula as Click, Grown Ups, and Jack and Jill in which a divided family is brought together and bonds between parents and children are reaffirmed. As in Sandler’s movies, the filmmakers of Parental Guidance reach for the heartstrings of the audience in the laziest, most cliché, and unimaginative ways possible. The conceit of Parental Guidance is that contemporary helicopter parenting has produced a generation of over-privileged sissies. While that is a point well taken the movie has no insight beyond that and the filmmakers manage to botch even this most basic premise. The kids of Parental Guidance are generally well behaved and don’t need to be straightened out. That means the very essence of the movie’s conflict is undone before it even gets started. The grandparents, on the other hand, make a lot of stupid decisions. In this, Parental Guidance shares the essential feature of the cinema of Adam Sandler: the adults who act like children. It is one thing for grandparents to feel alienated from a culture that has moved past them but Billy Crystal and Bette Midler’s characters are often recklessly and incredibly stupid. That stupidity is never rebuked; it’s intended to be a source of charm but it’s just obnoxious. Despite setting up the children as weaklings and the grandparents as out of touch, no one in this film learns anything. The kids don’t become tougher or more independent, the grandparents don’t become better guardians, and the ending is an entirely manufactured moment of sentimentality that is empty because nothing is resolved or affirmed. Parental Guidance also shares with Adam Sandler comedies the same sense of humor. The picture randomly switches its comic tone, alternating between attempts at wit and bawdy physical comedy. This does not work at all and it is indicative of the problems in the comedy genre right now. Many of the great comedies are written and directed in a very deliberate way, stacking the gags on top of one another and setting up jokes that pay off in the climax. Like most contemporary comedies, and especially like the films of Adam Sandler, the moviemakers behind Parental Guidance are not interested in putting forth the effort of actually crafting a comic story and instead resort to cheap and lazy gags. The humor of Parental Guidance is not just lackluster but often painfully unfunny. That discomfort is amplified by the cast. Billy Crystal and Bette Midler have terrific filmographies that include movies like For the Boys and City Slickers. Marisa Tomei plays the mother and she has proven herself to be a successful comedic actress in films like My Cousin Vinny. Had Parental Guidance actually starred Adam Sandler and company the blow of it would be tempered by lowered expectations. But when a movie this rotten is populated with actors this talented, the stink of it is even more rancid.

Bottom Line: Parental Guidance is an unpleasant movie to watch. Despite the fact that the main cast includes several esteemed performers, it is an Adam Sandler comedy is disguise.

Episode: #422 (January 13, 2013)