Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 29, 2013)
Neither Bette Midler nor Billy Crystal did much on the big screen over the last decade, but both returned – together! – for 2012’s Parental Guidance. Apparently audiences kinda sorta welcomed them back, as the family comedy earned decent returns at the box office.
I’ve enjoyed Midler and Crystal at times in the past and had hopes they’d combine for a satisfying film. Alas, all hopes were dashed quickly in this dreadful flick.
Phil and Alice Simmons (Tom Everett Scott and Marisa Tomei) live in Atlanta with their three kids: 12-year-old Harper (Bailee Madison), 8-year-old Turner (Joshua Rush) and five-year-old Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf). When they plan a brief trip away from home, they can’t get the usual parties to watch the kids, so they reluctantly ask Alice’s parents Artie and Diane Decker (Crystal and Midler).
Smarting from the recent loss of his long-time job as a minor league baseball announcer, Artie doesn’t want to go from Fresno to Atlanta to do this, but Diane thinks they should spend more time with the grandkids. She wins and they schlep to Georgia. There they encounter a clash between their old school parenting theories and the new age methods favored by Phil and Alice. Hilarity ensues?
No, it doesn’t. Boredom and disgust follow, and there’s not a single laugh to be found in this stinker.
Guidance feels like a throwback film, but not in a good way. It seems like something that could’ve been made 20 to 25 years ago with very few changes. Sure, the nature of the technology shown in the flick would be different, but the jokes and characters would be exactly the same. This is one-dimensional “generation gap” humor at its most basic.
That might not be a bad thing if the movie did anything vaguely original or clever. Unfortunately, it reduces all the characters and situations to simplistic stereotypes and never develops them.
Of course, all of the kids have their problems, and each issue gets neatly resolved by the end. Of course, Artie and Diane learn that they can adapt to the modern methods. Of course, Alice realizes that the old ways aren’t always a bad thing. Hugs for everyone!
Fettered by a tired, stale script, we get tired, stale comedy along with tired, stale sentimentality. For the most part, Guidance splits pretty cleanly between broad comedy and sappy emotions. Most of the first half gives us the gags, and the second concentrates on more touchy-feely material.
I wouldn’t mind if a) the jokes were funny, and/or b) the sentiment felt earned. Did I care about the characters? Not for one moment.
The kids are generally unlikable little annoyances, and none of the adults do much for me, either. With his world turned upside-down after the loss of his job, I should probably feel for Artie, but Crystal does nothing to give him heart or nuance. He's just a flippant joke machine, and Midler’s Diane couldn’t seem to care less about him.
Honestly, those two seem like they’re in different movies. Granted, both offer similar acting styles, as they constantly mug and emote for the camera.
However, there’s no connection between the two of them. If I didn’t know better, I’d think they shot their parts separately on green screen and effects wizards joined their performances via movie magic; there’s zero chemistry between the two leads. (I’m also curious to know what the heck Crystal has stapled to his head; he sports fake hair so bad he now looks like a Chia Pet.)
The kids come across as the worst kind of Hollywood cutie pies. Actually, that’s not entirely fair, as Madison – who was awful in 2011’s Just Go With It - almost sorta kinda tries to give her character some personality, but Rush and Breitkopf feel like showbiz babies without any sense of heart or reality.
I don’t blame the kids for this atrocity, though, as the adults should’ve known better. There’s no story here – it’s a flimsy sitcom premise stretched to 105 minutes – along with no logic and no humor. It starts with broad gags and slowly degenerates into unearned emotion. I wanted to enjoy Parental Guidance but took no pleasure from this dreadful stab at comedy.