moviebuff801: Parental Guidance Review

Posted: January 5, 2013 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

Maybe it’s just because I’m older and a bit more movie-savvy now, but from my perspective, the majority of today’s kids’/family films seem a lot worse than they were when I was growing up.  Of course, when you’re younger, these movies always appear so fun and exciting, but that’s a conversation to be had another day.  In the case of a movie like Parental Guidance, starring Billy Crystal and Bette Midler, there are quite a few times throughout where you can see exactly why I feel so bad for the kids out there right now who don’t know any better, as well as the parents who have to go along with them to the theater.  If there’s any saving grace about this movie, though, it’s that it’s actually not god-awful.  But is that still a good thing?

So, the story is thus: Artie and Diane (Crystal and Midler), the parents to the highly successful Alice (Marisa Tomei) are called upon to come and look after their three spirited grandchildren because Alice’s husband (Tom Everett-Scott) has to go out of town on a business trip, which the parents also see as an opportunity for much-needed “alone time.”  Once Artie and Diane arrive, however, they immediately find themselves out of their depth when having to care for the rambunctious and high-maintenance children, whether it be trying to coax perfectionist daughter Harper (Bailee Madison) to be more easygoing, helping middle child Turner (Joshua Rush) overcome his stutter or coping with young Barker’s (Kyle Harrison Bretikopf) imaginary friend issues.  And, yes, that kid’s name is Barker.  But, of course, Artie and Diane’s “old school” methods of parenting almost instantly begin to clash with the more modern approach of Alice and her husband.  Hilarity, allegedly, ensues.

Before I get into the things about Parental Guidance that don’t work, I think it’s only fair to take a moment and mention the things that do, or at least, work as well as they can.  Firstly, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler are actually decent here, given what they have to work with.  They’re rarely annoying in their roles, and actually manage to get a few good laughs every now and then, Billy Crystal especially.  Oh, trust me, there are still scenes in this movie where they’re clearly trying too hard (Crystal acting like a “hip,” cool guy, for example), but on the other hand, the two actors also have moments where they entertain.  If you’re a fan of Billy Crystal’s comedy, then you’ll most likely agree.  With some of the one-liners he has in this movie, it’s kind of hard not to laugh or at least crack a smile.  Also, the movie genuinely has its heart in the right place in what it sets out to accomplish, and there’s a particular part of the climax that I legitimately found pretty touching.

But at the same time, the movie is just mired by uninspired clichés, some jokes that are worn out by now (a song about making you shit easier – really?) and a plot structure as predictable as they come.  Not to mention the fact that Marisa Tomei’s performance is exceedingly bland.  Actually, it feels like Billy Crystal and Bette Midler are the only adult actors in this cast who are actually trying.

Getting back to the clichés, though, I feel like I have to ask one question: why?  Why do writers in this genre just keep picking the same old elements and use them in almost the exact same way that other movies of its kind have countless times already?  Sure, the writers here do their damndest to give the film a lot of heart, but at the same time, they’re showing such a lack of imagination that it really does feel like a shame that the movie itself doesn’t work.  Okay, I’m aware that every kid under the age of 12 finds bathroom humor the funniest thing in the world, but do these movies have to resort to it so damn often?  If Pixar movies can manage to be good more often than not without resorting to that so often, then why can’t live-action movies aimed at the same audience do that?

Another thing that movies like Parental Guidance need to learn is to throw us a “curve ball” every once in a while in terms of how the story progresses.  There’s not one moment in this entire movie where you can’t tell exactly where everything’s going, and you can basically watch this movie while going through a checklist of all the tropes of this type of film.  Groin injury joke?  Check.  A scene where someone gets vomited on?  Check.  I guess this movie is thinking it’s being “clever” by having those two scenes occur one right after the other.  Yes, there are certain payoffs expected of a movie like this, but is it too much to ask to make the journey to that payoff a little different than we’re used to?  Spice it up more, people.

In the end, while I can’t call Parental Guidance a complete failure, it’s still that kind of movie that just … exists.  It does all the things you expect it to, and never does anything particularly new or interesting, despite having two admittedly entertaining leads.  If the first lyric of that Whitney Houston song “Greatest Love of All” is true, and the children ARE our future … well, my friends, get ready for an even more endless loop of “blah” family films.

*1/2 /****   (That’s one-and-a-half stars, not half of one.)  

  1. brikhaus says:

    I figured this would be a piece of shit. Thanks for confirming it!

  2. moviebuff801 says:

    That’s what I’m here for. ;)

  3. Mark Hobin says:

    You know I was all set to hate this film. And then something funny happened, I actually chuckled, not once but several times. I legitimately laughed out loud when the “smart house” loudly inquires if Grandpa Artie would like to continue watching R rated horror movie Saw with little Turner just as Mom walks in the room. True this is pretty innocuous stuff and not very innovative, but it is warm hearted and family friendly.

    • moviebuff801 says:

      Like I said, it IS harmless and it does have its heart in the right place, and Crystal and Midler do decently, but the execution does nothing to really set the film apart from others like it.

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