December 25 2012
Surprisingly enjoyable family comedy, enlivened by likeable comic performances and a handful of decent gags, though it’s also shamelessly sentimental and assumes a love of baseball that may not translate too well to British audiences.
What’s it all about?
Directed by Andy Fickman, Parental Guidance stars Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as Artie and Diane Decker, two grandparents who get the chance to look after their three rarely-seen grandchildren â€“ over-achieving Harper (Bailee Madison), stuttering, bullied Turner (Joshua Rush) and five year old force-of-nature Barker (Karl Harrison Breitkopf) â€“ when their parents (Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott) have to go away on business. However, they soon find that their old-school upbringing methods don’t go down so well with either the 21st century children or their frightfully modern parents.
Billy Crystal proves he can still deliver one-liners with the best of them and he sparks likeable chemistry with both Midler and the various kids. Midler is on equally good form and there’s strong comic support from Marisa Tomei as well as a very funny turn from Gedde Watanabe as a local restaurateur who’s a little too attached to Barker’s imaginary friend.
Contrary to what you might think from its not-very-promising trailer, Parental Guidance has a surprising number of decent gags, from sharp one-liners to some unexpected physical comedy; it also has the second funniest vomit scene of the week (and, indeed, the year), if you like that sort of thing. At heart, however, this is an old-fashioned family comedy and to that end, the script is very good at pushing all the right buttons, to the point where you might find yourself surprisingly moved by the emotional climax.
As with many middle-of-the-road comedies, the main problem is that not all of the jokes work, but there’s enough here to generate consistent amusement, even if outright belly laughs are thin on the ground. Similarly, the film does go a little overboard on the sugary sentimentality, but that rather comes with the territory on this sort of thing; what may be a little more problematic â€“ at least for British audiences – is that the film expects you to share Artie’s obsessive love of baseball, which features heavily in the (surprisingly effective) emotional climax.
Parental Guidance is an entirely watchable family comedy, thanks to likeable comic performances and a surprisingly decent script.