Movie Review: Parental Guidance

By Matthew Huntley

January 14, 2013

When he's older, he'll learn that giving her beads is a more effective play.

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We’re taught to never judge a book by its cover, but I admit that’s exactly what I did with Parental Guidance, which had such a dreadful, obnoxious trailer that it left me with little to no hope for the actual movie. Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to seeing it, but to my surprise, the opening act and setup raised my confidence. They were funny and promising, and for a short time, I thought maybe, just maybe, the rest of the movie would stay afloat and end up an enjoyable family comedy. Sadly, my initial instincts turned out to be true and by about the one-third mark, Parental Guidance began its descent toward the low expectations set forth by its trailer.

What’s perhaps most irksome about a movie like Parental Guidance is that it shows potential at the beginning but keeps letting you down the longer it goes on. Too bad it didn’t play in reverse; at least then it would have ended on a high note.

The movie stars Billy Crystal as Artie, a veteran announcer for the minor league baseball team, the Fresno Grizzlies. Artie is good at his job and loves it, but he’s unexpectedly fired when the franchise decides to redesign their image in order to appeal to a younger demographic. Artie, who’s in his mid-60s, is at a loss when his boss starts talking about things like Facebook and Twitter and uses words like “friends,” “poke” and “hash.” He’s crushed, but his wife Diane (Bette Midler) thinks this is a sign he should retire. Artie disagrees; he still dreams of announcing for the San Francisco Giants.


All this comes at a time when Artie and Diane’s daughter, Alice (Marisa Tomei), asks them to come to Atlanta for a week to watch her three kids. She wants to accompany her husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott) to an awards ceremony for product of the year - Phil designed what’s appropriately called the “Smart Home,” a fully automated housing system that talks, makes breakfast, washes the dishes, records images, etc. without the residents having to lift a finger. If you thought Artie had a hard time grasping ideas like Facebook and Twitter…

Artie and Diane aren’t exactly close with Alice or their grandchildren, probably because their antiquated parenting style differs so drastically from Alice and Phil’s modern, non-disciplinarian approach. For instance, Alice and Phil don’t believe in giving their kids sugar, and they never say things like “don’t” or “no.” Instead, the kids are instructed to “consider the consequences” and “use your words” to express themselves. It should come as no surprise, then, that Artie and Diane feel out of touch when they arrive and are saddened when there are no pictures of them on the mantle. Diane tells Artie they’ve become the “other” grandparents and so the two vow to use the week as a second chance at parenting.

Such a premise could have made (and does to some degree) for an insightful, satirical and heartwarming family comedy about an older couple learning to reinvent themselves through their younger, more technology-driven daughter and grandkids. Billy Crystal is especially good here because he excels in self-deprecating humor. He shows he’s still a master of comic timing and possesses the ability to make even the most predictable situations funny and fresh.

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