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Parental Guidance

Theatrical Review

20th Century Fox; 105 minutes

Director: Andy Fickman

Written by on December 31, 2012 

Silly and loveable, Parental Guidance hits me at a critical blind spot. It’s an entertaining piece of craft that harkens back to the silly post-Latchkey kid Christmas movies I grew up with (ie: films about kids and parents) like Mrs. Doubtfire. Parental Guidance is upbeat and good natured, a broad family comedy appealing to multiple generations. A cynic could call it a product, but if you’re buying what Andy Fickman and his cast are selling (a good time) then you could certainly do worse (for example, by wandering down the hall to experience the unwatchable The Guilt Trip).

The quick sitcom set up: Billy Crystal and Bette Midler play the Deckers. Artie is a baseball announcer, Diane a former weather forecaster. They are called upon at the last minute (when the other grandparents can’t make it) to watch the grandkids. They include Harper (Bailee Madison), the over achiever, Turner (Joshua Rush), who has a stuttering problem, and Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), a little rambunctious one who almost kills Tony Hawk.

The challenge proves all the more difficult as their daughter, Alice (Marisa Tomei) and her husband (Tom Everett Scott), have adopted a new school of parenting, encouraging their kids to “consider the consequences” (verses telling them  “no”) and take the higher ground on all conflicts, all while living in a prototype voice-controlled smart home. The film sets up multiple situations that ultimately work not as boring comic setpieces, but establish a texture beyond the sitcom — much of it is silly, but also instructional.

The film also works with performances that elevate the material beyond the mundane sitcom, fronted by Crystal. It’s been a while since we’ve seen him in action and here he’s perfectly suited as a cynical grandfather negotiating a bribe for Barker, who wants to wear women’s shoes to school because his imaginary friend told him to. Midler and Tomei also share some great moments as she passes down valuable information that may be critical to this all-too-perfect marriage that is on the verge of fizzling out under the pressure of having three active kids.

Parental Guidance is a culturally relevant film as overachievement borders on madness in this type of upper-middle class family. Having the grandparents come in to keep things in check and what the film ultimately settles on (tying up the loose ends perhaps a little too neatly) works because of the tone in place. Although the screenplay provides too much exposition too efficiently, it does cover a lot of ground. It’s perhaps overextends its welcome at an hour and 45 minutes, but Fickmans light touch and energy keeps the smiles coming.

Parental Guidance is now in wide release.


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