The cult of helicopter parents bent on â€œteachable momentsâ€ and overscheduling begs for a good satire. Parental Guidance isnâ€™t the ripping attack we were hoping for (leave that to Judd Apatow or Ben Stiller), but it takes an intermittently funny, albeit warm and family-friendly, stab at it.
The main person battling the self-esteemâ€“obsessed generation is Billy Crystal, playing a semi-estranged grandfather, Artie. With his wife, Diane (Bette Midler), he tries to reconnect with his daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei) and her children by babysitting for a few days. Alice and her husband are desperate for a week away from the kids whom they spend all day shuttling between violin lessons and baseball when they arenâ€™t feeding them soysages and eggless egg-salad sandwiches.
Before you can say â€œUse your words,â€ the kids are calling Artie â€œFartieâ€, demanding to watch Saw, nailing gramps in his â€œspecial placeâ€, and tripping out on their first taste of sugar.
Unfortunately, Parental Guidance wanders like a distracted five-year-old, especially in the subplot about Artieâ€™s lost career as a baseball commentator. Among the unfunny tangents: a trip to the X Games (the lame punchline: Tony Hawk skateboards through a childâ€™s pee), a requisite musical number for Midler, and almost every scene with poor Tomei.
PG gets its biggest (maybe only) laughs when it focuses on pitting Artieâ€™s old-school parenting habits against new ones: watch a preschooler demand grandpa sing a â€œdoodyâ€ song so he can make number 2 in what may be Atlantaâ€™s worst public toilet.
In another scene thatâ€™s hilarious until you think about how sad it is, Artie and Diane attempt to teach the kids how to play Kick the Can. One child wonders if the can should be recycled; the other observes how â€œdirtyâ€ it is outdoors. Itâ€™s what you might call a teachable moment.