January 10, 2013
Billy Crystal and Bette Midler are big stars, and they’ve made some big movies, but now they’ve made a big mess.
In “Parental Guidance” they play grandparents enlisted to watch their daughter’s three kids for a week while she and her husband are away. Crystal’s character, Artie Becker, is a minor league baseball announcer who’s just been canned for being too old-school. Midler plays his wife, Diane, a long-ago TV weather girl who’s equally out of touch with the progressive, modern-day lifestyle of their adult children and grandkids.
While Artie and Diane fumble, their uptight daughter (Marisa Tomei) and son-in-law (Tom Everett Scott) fret that they’ve made a horrible decision, and their precocious little ones act out their insecurities, quirks and obsessions.
Bring on the comedy!
The kids (Bailee Madison, Joshua Rush and Kyle Harrison Beitkopf) are cute enough, and Madison, in particular, seems to have some real potential as a budding young actress. But that’s about the only slack I’m going to cut this yappy pileup of grandparents-know-best shtick, gross-out bathroom humor and sentimental claptrap that should have never struck anyone as a good idea.
Crystal didn’t direct this pileup, but he did serve as one of the producers, and his imprint is all over it — baseball, baseball, baseball, a running patter of rat-a-tat-tat one-liners practically begging for ba-dum-bump rimshots, and a kitschy kitchen song-and-dance routine with Midler than seems like something cut from one of his Oscars-hosting gigs years ago. He’s a funny guy, but we’ve seen and heard it all before it.
Midler hasn’t been in a major movie in years, and it’s a puzzle why she thought this one was worth the effort. Other than getting to drop a couple of snappy diva-quip bombs on her granddaughter’s ridiculously over-the-top Russian taskmaster of a music teacher, and overreact like a ditz to everything going on around her, she’s basically stranded with nothing genuinely funny to do.
And poor Marisa Tomei — in what possible context does a movie such as this appeal to a classy, genuinely talented, Oscar-winning actress such as her?
And by “movie such as this,” I’m speaking of a movie in which the supposedly comedic high points include Crystal’s character being struck between the legs with a baseball bat and then throwing up in face of a Little League player … a movie in which pro skateboarder Tony Hawk is derailed at the X Games by a pool of urine … a movie in which Crystal’s character sings a ditty about poop in the stall of a public toilet, and smiles brightly when a bout of constipation is broken with a splash in the toilet bowl.
Yes, a “movie such as this.”
In a scene that’s obviously been designed for maximum yuks and yukiness, the grandkids, rampant on a sugar high after devouring a forbidden ice cream cake, make a disaster of the kitchen. Tomei’s character, horrified, ends up getting what’s left of the cake in her face.
“This perfectly sums up your entire approach to parenting,” she tells Artie and Diane, wiping the goo out of her eyes in exasperation.
It also pretty much sums up the whole movie — an icky, gooey glop that gets all over everybody and isn’t nearly as funny or as sweet or sentimental as it seems to think it is.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Parental Guidance”
STARRING: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler and Marisa Tomei
DIRECTED BY: Andy Fickman
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes