Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Cinema File #145: "Parental Guidance" Review


Well, I guess I did say I was tempted to watch it. Didn't think I'd actually get the chance to do it this soon. I just saw Parental Guidance, the Billy Crystal/Bette Midler family comedy no one asked for. Sometimes there are movies that pleasantly surprise me, far surpassing my expectations. Other times movies surprise me by being even worse than I thought they would be. And sometimes, well, a movie turns out exactly as you expect it to. Its not good, its not bad, its just, I thing that happened, I guess. Its good to see some actors you haven't seen in mainstream roles in a while, and there's nothing especially awful about any of it, but...eh. Yeah, just eh.


Parental Guidance is the story of two grandparents asked to watch their grand kids for a week while their daughter and her husband are on vacation, resulting in predictably wacky situations in which their traditionally freewheeling style of childreering clashes with the ultra-modern yuppie style of helicopter parenting the kids are used to. As one might expect, awkwardness abounds until everyone learns a lesson they probably could have easily learned just by virtue of common sense, and everything ends happily ever after within a merciful running time. I'm a bit conflicted, if only because as bland as it is, it was in no way infuriating in the way Movie 43 or Identity Thief were. I rarely laughed out loud, but I smiled a lot, and chuckled a few times, and as much as I wish it wasn't so, maybe I just have to accept that that is enough.


Much like Small Apartments which I eluded to above, the presence of Billy Crystal basically playing the same guy from City Slickers except old and without the wild west adventure stuff is enjoyable from a nostalgic standpoint, as is Bette Midler to a lesser extent. He gets to sarcastically riff about modern life in that way he has that is mostly always charming, or at the very least rarely grating, with a lot of opportunities to tee off against the state of touchy feely parenting that not being a parent myself I can only hope is exaggerated for comic effect. By the time he finds himself moments away from actual assault of the spanking variety and gets to give his big speech about saying "No" to kids in front of an audience of onlookers, it has just about gotten old, but then there isn't much movie left after that point.


Many of the set pieces could have been exploited for comedy a lot more than they were (though come to think of it that is a criticism that applies to the whole film in general). A pee wee baseball game where all the kids win and no one strikes out, and a speech therapy class where the kids don't speak and instead communicate through interpretive dance all come and go with one or two mildly amusing beats, before we quickly move on to the next thing. The most egregious example of missed potential is the setting, specifically an ultra-high tech smart house that you expect will eventually malfunction and go crazy a la 2001: A Space Odyssey, but never really amounts to anything except one admittedly somewhat funny scene where it innocently gets Crystal in trouble multiple times in rapid succession.


Also, the kids in this movie, while all generally good from an acting standpoint at least for child actors, display a dysfunction that often strains credulity, such that I can't really believe that any parent that actually loves their kids would be blind enough not to see how all this structure and softness is screwing them up. The daughter is a high strung over achiever that comes across as one bad day away from wrist cutting, the middle child is so wimpy that I want to kick his ass just because, and the youngest one seems to be trying for precocious, but comes off as having been driven insane by yuppieness, taking his unchallenged belief in an imaginary friend to absurd levels. Eventually of course the parents learn to lighten up a bit, but one wonders why it took this long for them to realize anything was wrong.


Overall, Parental Guidance is about as middle of the road as you can get for a comedy. Its pleasant enough, but to say its nothing special is an understatement. Basically, if you've seen the trailers, you know exactly what you're in for, and if that's you're thing, you probably won't be disappointed. If you demand more from your comedies, I'd say only risk it if you have absolutely nothing better to do, or only if you just need something to have on in the background. Not the best sales job, I grant you, but after having been an amateur online film critic for over a year now, its sad to think of all the movies that don't even meet the standard of "stuff to play while doing something else." Enjoy, or not.
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