'Parental Guidance' could control its kids better
05:00 AM, Dec 23, 2012
Parental Guidance marks one of those movies aimed at an oddly narrow demographic: grandparents.
Not their kids or their grandkids, a common marketing strategy to lure both ends of the age spectrum with time to kill over the holidays.
No, Guidance aims a sweet-if-silly bead squarely at the AARP-qualified generation. And while its senior stars do a terrific job capturing aging in a youth-crazed culture, Guidance drops the ball, in all departments, in its portrayal of anyone younger than 55.
Billy Crystal plays Artie Decker, a quick-witted minor league baseball announcer who dreams of broadcasting San Francisco Giants games.
His wife, Diane (Bette Midler), plays the dutiful spouse and does a nice job consoling her husband, who gets fired because he can’t tweet and wouldn’t know a hashtag from a hash brown.
But when their only daughter, Alice (Marisa Tomei), invites them to Atlanta to watch the kids for a few days, the wheels come off.
Directed by Andy Fickman (She’s the Man, The Game Plan),Guidance is one of the year’s more manic films. But Fickman manages some heartfelt moments when Artie and Diane confess their fears of aging. Artie concedes he needs a Walter Mitty dream to give his days purpose. Just as touching, Diane, admits her fear of being “the other grandparents,” the distant, fuddy-duddy seniors kids dread hosting.
But for every nerve Guidance hits, it bludgeons the audience with characters who could come from a Mentos ad.
Dad Phil (Tom Everett Scott) is an inventor who has created a talking house that is really an elaborate punchline blender. Tomei is oddly cast as a daughter raised by two thoughtful parents, yet who seems embarrassed by the loving couple.
The children, in particular, are throwaway characters. There’s the over-achieving daughter (Bailee Madison), the stuttering son (Joshua Rush) and hell-raising youngest sibling (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf). They all just need to be told to “chill out” by Grandpa. Even kids may find the high jinks tame and the cutesy grins too saccharine.
Guidance has the requisite physical slapstick of family films, as body functions go awry and food finds every orifice but the mouth. None of this distinguishes it from, say, a Tyler Perry film.
Which is a shame, because Midler and Crystal are strong. Crystal, in particular, lets his love of baseball show (he participated in Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball), and you get the feeling he’d have been a good play-by-play man.
Yet the movie spends too much time wedging the couple into a May-December moment, where Crystal cracks nostalgic about the good old days. It’s sweet, but it grows old.