I thought (hoped?) Hollywood got over these types of movies years ago. Parental Guidance is one of those “dysfunctional family” comedies that were run into the ground by the likes of The Pacifier, Are We Done Yet?, Cheaper by the Dozen, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, RV, The Game Plan, and so on. And yet, it would seem that filmmakers still haven’t learned how to do these types of comedies properly. Rather than an amusing distraction, Parental Guidance is a putrid holiday coal lump designed for the lowest common denominator, suffering from shamelessly broad acting, flaccid humour and an entirely trite message about family unity. It honestly feels like a tuneless 30-minute sitcom episode that has been tragically extended to feature-length.
Artie (Crystal) is a veteran announcer for a minor league baseball team, but he suddenly loses his job for not being “hip” enough. When Artie’s daughter Alice (Tomei) and her husband Phil (Scott) head out on a business trip, they call in Artie and his wife Diane (Midler) to babysit the kids. Artie baulks at the idea, but Diane embraces the chance to get closer to her grandchildren. However, Alice and Phil abide by a very modern parental approach, which does not sit well with the old-fashioned Artie. Let the predictable hijinks begin…
Parental Guidance points out cultural differences in an attempt to score laughs, but the results are flat and predictable. Artie and Diane do not understand the new generation of parenting, leading to a few instances of “back in my day…” dialogue. Sure, today’s overzealous, high-tech, “politically correct” parental methods are absurd, but the pot-shots are too easy and obvious. Oh, and the grandparents aren’t well-versed in today’s Internet world, leading to more “hilarious” gags – when Artie is being fired, his boss tells him he’d prefer an announcer who tweets, to which Artie replies “I’ll make any noise you want!” Outside of this, writers Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse trust in the good ol’ poop and fart formula, with one of the kids turning the name Artie into “Fartie,” and with skateboarder Tony Hawk stacking on a halfpipe after slipping on some urine. Every scene exists to set up some kind of gag, but everything is signposted so far in advance that you’ll accurately predict whatever pitfall is about to occur. Worse, barely any of the gags are even funny, just pedestrian.
Unsurprisingly, sentiment eventually sneaks its way into the production, underscored by trite piano twinkling to shamelessly reinforce how important the moment is meant to be. There’s no rhythm, personality or feeling to Andy Fickman’s workmanlike direction. To its credit, Parental Guidance at least looks bright and vibrant, rendering it at least somewhat watchable to the unfussy viewers. Furthermore, as bad as the film is at its core, a few moments admittedly work, with a small amount of set-pieces that achieve what they were designed to do. Problem is, it just takes too damn long for the half-decent stuff to kick in. Plus, there’s too much trite malarkey included for the sake of the stereotypical formula. Of course there’s going to be a scene in which Alice and Phil unexpectedly arrive home at the most inopportune time for Artie and Diane which leads to tattered relationships, of course there’s going to be heartfelt chatting and reconciliations, and of course the good in Artie and Diane’s old-school parenting methods are going to be brought out and lauded. Fickman could only do so much with this material, I guess.
By all accounts, the main players at the centre of Parental Guidance are terrific under normal circumstances. Up until recently, Crystal has been one of the most entertaining funny-men in the industry, but he’s clearly lost his touch. Crystal hasn’t headlined a movie in many-a-year, making it all the more disappointing that he sprinted into this tosh instead of attaching himself to a better script. It’s clear, though, that all of the actors were let down by this by-the-numbers script. A few lines may cause guffaws, but there’s a good chance that Crystal ad-libbed all of the worthwhile dialogue, and there’s absolutely nothing here on a par with Crystal’s best material.
Parental Guidance is a showcase of pretty much everything that can go wrong in filmmaking shy of forgetting to load the camera (which actually would’ve made for an improvement here). It’s utterly terrible, a holiday movie intended to make you laugh and cry but will instead make you cringe and stare blankly at the screen. It feels too calculated and manufactured, without an ounce of passion or care to be seen. The film also closes with a short additional scene at the end of the credits. Normal wisdom would dictate sticking around for this, but it’s not worth prolonging one’s experience any longer. When the credits roll, just escape and move on with your life. Hell, escape before you start watching this rancid malarkey.