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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Review: Parental Guidance

Parental Guidance Suggested But Not Recommended

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: December 25, 2012 – U.S.
Rating: PG
Genre: Comedy
Running Time: 128 minutes
Director: Andy Fickman
Writers: Lisa Addario, Joe Syracuse
Cast: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, 
Tom Everett Scott, Bailee Madison, Joshua Rush, 
Kyle Harrison Breitkopf, Gedde Watanabe

When the kids in "Parental Guidance" are upset, they're instructed to "use their words" instead of lashing out. I will try to "use my words" too.

Actually, the movie starts out promisingly enough. It helps to have actors the caliber of Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, and Marisa Tomei. They're a joy to watch. They can roll right through weak dialogue and wring out the occasional laugh from cheesy gags that would fall completely flat in the hands of a lesser performer. It's similar to the effect Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman had on the otherwise mediocre "The Bucket List." The right people can elevate middling material – up to a certain point, anyway.

Alice and Phil (Tomei and Tom Everett Scott) have to go away for the week and can't leave their young children home alone. Artie and Diane (Crystal and Midler) are tired of being "the other grandparents" and agree to babysit the brood, which consists of Harper, Turner, and Barker (Bailee Madison, Joshua Rush, and Kyle Harrison Breitkopf).

I could've sworn that I had misheard the youngest son's name for the entire film, but it actually is Barker. Yes, they named their child after the sound a dog makes. (My apologies – and condolences – to any Barkers who might be reading this.)

Naturally, the grandparents are more "old school" in their techniques, while the younger parents take a more "modern" approach to raising their kids: no sugar, no spanking, and definitely no "Saw" movies. Those poor, deprived children!

Under the "care" of their grandparents:

  • The kids go crazy with cake and make a mess of the entire kitchen. 
  • Billy Crystal's character shares a toilet with a 4-year-old boy who is trying to have a bowel movement. They're actually seated together. Uh huh. Who does that? And while it's happening, they sing about it. Then a person outside the stall starts singing and dancing to the "music" too. Several other onlookers just stand there in absolute bewilderment. Why isn't Billy Crystal in jail? 
  • A toddler pees on pro skater Tony Hawk.
  • Billy gets hit between the "crystals" with a baseball bat and then vomits all over the boy who did it. 

Some will undoubtedly find all of that very funny. I'm not among the amused. I couldn't wait for those excruciating scenes – and others like them – to be over.

But the movie does have a few bright spots.

There's Mr. Cheng (Gedde Watanabe). He's a restaurant owner who also waits tables. He may even be the host too. And he delivers! If that wasn't enough, he's also available to visit his clientele for important family occasions. Why can't I get that kind of service from my local Chinese – excuse me, "Pan-Asian" – restaurant?

His funniest lines involve an imaginary kangaroo named Carl.

It's all pretty silly, but Gedde Watanabe makes the most of what he's given and steals every scene he's in. That's pretty impressive against the likes of Crystal, Midler, and Tomei.

As the story progresses, the kids get to know their grandparents better and vice versa. It's a well-worn formula, but those quieter interludes are far more effective than the loud, obnoxious slapstick gags and crude potty humor. There's a "big moment" near the end – every movie like this has one – and I have to admit, it got to me a little bit.

"Parental Guidance" isn't a great film. It's not even a good one. But it does have a few memorable bits and pieces that are worth revisiting for five or ten minutes while flipping through channels.  

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