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Parental Guidance: Does It Work? You Betcha! ~ The New York Times

The New York Times
‘No Means No,’ and More From Wise Grandparents
By MANOHLA DARGIS
Published: December 24, 2012

“Parental Guidance,” a new comedy with Billy Crystal, is about a minor-league baseball announcer who, after he’s canned for being an old shtick in the mud (he doesn’t tweet), develops a new relationship with his daughter and grandkids. Actually, he teaches everyone a lot of lessons — it’s revenge of the geezer — allowing him to have his curmudgeonly cake and eat it too. Mostly, though, “Parental Guidance” is what families who are desperate to get out of the house over the holidays and need to bridge the generational divide will see after they’ve seen “Les Misérables.”

It could be worse, and would be without Bette Midler or Marisa Tomei. Ms. Midler plays Diane, the saint married to Mr. Crystal’s Artie Decker. The kooky Diane is first seen, halfheartedly and fully clothed, working a stripper pole in her living room alongside her gal pals. (They seem to have brought their own.) Before Artie’s early retirement can kick in, their daughter, Alice (Ms. Tomei), phones and asks if Grandma and Grandpa can baby-sit her three children while she and her husband, Phil (Tom Everett Scott), take a trip. Diane is delighted, Artie dubious, but they pack up and descend with inappropriate gifts (Artie gives out bobblehead figures of himself), life lessons and a hands-on parenting philosophy that encompasses criminal negligence and Dr. Spock-style common sense.

Written by Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse, and directed with snap by Andy Fickman, “Parental Guidance” hits its familiar buttons hard and often. Alice and her family live in a so-called smart house that comes with a talking computer that turns on appliances, greets the family and serves as a strained metaphor for what ails this brood. Alice and Phil have delegated, or perhaps surrendered, some of the basic chores of life to the computer, an early signal that these Apache helicopter parents have created a somewhat inauthentic life for their children. Diane and especially Artie (who’s so technologically clueless he has trouble answering a phone) respond to this newfangled alienation by plying the tots with sugar, a round of kick-the-can and the unaccustomed sound of the word “no.”

Does it work? You betcha. There are smiles and tears, love and affirmations, a few funny jokes and a lot of easy sentimentality. At one point Artie and Diane sing a song, delighting the children and suggesting that more tunes would have been a nice idea here. Any time Ms. Midler is around, it’s smart to have her sing. She and Ms. Tomei are sympathetic, likable screen presences, but there isn’t much for them to do except smile indulgently at, and be upstaged by, men and children alike. And while this may nominally be a family affair, don’t be fooled for a second: this is Mr. Crystal’s show from opening to close, and he is not especially good about sharing.

“Parental Guidance” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). But not really required.

Parental Guidance

Opens on Tuesday nationwide.

Directed by Andy Fickman; written by Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by Kent Beyda; music by Marc Shaiman; production design by David J. Bomba; produced by Peter Chernin and Dylan Clark; released by 20th Century Fox. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes.

WITH: Billy Crystal (Artie Decker), Bette Midler (Diane Decker), Marisa Tomei (Alice), Tom Everett Scott (Phil), Bailee Madison (Harper), Joshua Rush (Turner) and Kyle Harrison Breitkopf (Barker).

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