Susan Grangerâ€™s review of â€œParental Guidanceâ€ (20th Century-Fox)
December 25th 2012
When Artie Decker (Billy Crystal), a minor-league baseball announcer, loses his job as the voice of the Fresno Grizzles, heâ€™s bereft. So when his daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei) and son-in-law Phil (Tom Everett Scott) must go out of town on a business trip, his devoted wife, Diane (Bette Midler) says theyâ€™d love to stay with their seldom-seen grandchildren, ignoring Artieâ€™s curmudgeonly protests.
â€œWeâ€™re the other grandparents,â€ Diane wistfully observes. â€œThis is our chance!â€
But uptight Alice and techno-geek Phil live in a so-called â€˜smart houseâ€™ in which everything is automated and computerized. Not surprisingly, their childrenâ€™s lives are strictly scheduled and dutifully monitored (â€œno sugar allowedâ€). Regimented 12 year-old Harper (Bailee Madison) is on a fast-track to ace an audition that will get her into a prestigious music school to prepare her to play violin with a world-famous orchestra. Her stressed younger brother, Turner (Joshua Rush), has a stuttering problem, while mischievous Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), has an imaginary kangaroo friend named Carl. To call Alice and Phil overprotective and indulgent is an understatement; they define â€˜helicopter parents.â€™ On the other hand, technology-challenged Artie and Diane come from a different generation, one that raised children by old-fashioned, common-sense rules â€“ and bribery. A colossal culture clash is inevitable.
An admitted baseball-fanatic, Billy Crystal is in his comedic element, while Bette Midler is tart, touching and tender. Their â€œBook of Loveâ€ duet is a highlight. Written by Lisa Addario and her husband Joe Syracuse (â€œSurfâ€™s Upâ€) and broadly directed by Andy Fickman (â€œRace to Witch Mountainâ€), the script vacillates, somewhat disconcertingly, between astute, sophisticated observations and juvenile toilet humor, particularly when Artie encourages constipated Barker to move his bowels in a public bathroom by singing â€œHere Comes Mr. Doody.â€ Too bad the supporting characters fall flat â€“ like Gedde Watanabe as the owner of a Chinese â€˜healthy foodâ€™ restaurant and a cameo by skateboarder Tony Hawk.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, â€œParental Guidanceâ€ is an amusing 7, as Billy Crystal delivers nostalgic, heartwarming fun for young children, parents and grandparents.