Saturday, December 15, 2012

Droll Humor Plagues Parental Guidance.

The Good: Moments of humor, Moments of character
The Bad: No superlative performances, Predictable plot, Lame, interchangeable jokes, One-note characters
The Basics: Billy Crystal and Bette Midler lead a decent cast performing badly in the Christmas family comedy Parental Guidance.

Every now and then, I figure the studios give up on a project. Won’t Back Down (reviewed here!) was given such a push of advanced screenings that it is a wonder that there was anyone left who might have wanted to see the film who ended up having to pay for it. In a similar fashion, I suspect the distributors of the Christmas-release family comedy Parental Guidance have decided it is not going to be able to compete with Les Miserables and they aren’t even going to try. Having gone to a screening of the Parental Guidance, I can now say that Twentieth Century Fox, seems to have made the right decision and bailed on the family comedy early.

Parental Guidance is a family comedy that is plagued by being too obvious, too safe, and overly generic. So many of the jokes could have been interchanged into other movies for virtually any other situation – in order to get up to the 104 minute running time, Parental Guidance is diluted with generic travel jokes and humor that is based on differences between the generations. The film is utterly predictable and it is another unfortunate example of a film where all of the best jokes are in the trailer, making for another dismal experience where the movie is stretched out around one or two decent (I counted five smileworthy) jokes.

Alice and Phil have to leave town and they cannot take their children with them. In desperation, Alice calls her parents, Artie and Diane, to ask if they will come and spend the week watching the kids. After much kvetching about how uncomfortable Artie is about the Alice’s parenting and his feelings of awkwardness around his grandchildren: Harper, Turner, and Darker, Diane and Artie go to Alice’s home, mostly based on Diane’s desire to have a closer relationship with the grandchildren. Once there, the family has an awkward dinner out, wherein Alice lays out the rules she wants Diane and Artie to help enforce.

When their children leave, Diane and Artie make little effort to live up to Alice’s wishes. Diane tries to be the cool grandmother, bonding especially with Harper. As difficult as it is for Artie, he begins to relate to the boys and he starts taking some joy in being a grandparent for the first time in his life.

Parental Guidance is 100% predictable and the deluge of travel jokes are anything but audacious and feel like filler as the movie slowly progresses through Artie’s complaining. The character arcs for Diane, Artie, and Alice are entirely predictable, given the way the characters are initially established. Alice is so down on how Artie and Diane raised her and she has such rigid views on how her children should be raised – she wants her kids to have more experiences, as opposed to having firm limits placed on them, yet has strict dietary restrictions for them and a few other absolute positions that prevent her parenting style from being defined as “experience-based.”

Similarly, Billy Crystal’s Artie seems to be a very obvious, generic grumpy old man at the outset of the film. Artie clearly loves his wife, but he is not keen on how Alice turned out and he has little initial interest in actually spending time with Alice’s children. Conversely, Diane is characterized as a woman who truly feels a void in her life for not being closer to her daughter and grandchildren. So, there is really very little direction the characters could go in other than Artie loosening up and Diane getting her wish (whatwith Hollywood’s adamant refusal to promote the idea that children do not solve every relationship problem and that grandparents are not universally cool or wealthy enough to spoil their grandchildren). Given that most of the flick focuses on the adults’ relationship(s), their arcs are entirely obvious.

In a similar fashion, Alice is suddenly forced to rely upon her parents in a way that she is not initially comfortable with. Given that Parental Guidance is a family comedy that falls firmly into the camp of That Kind Of Movie, there is nothing surprising in the way that Alice slowly grows to appreciate her parents and their parenting style more. Parental Guidance is one of those movies that is not about to challenge those expectations and it doesn’t.

As it turns out, Parental Guidance is actually only the second film I have seen Bette Midler on screen in. Go figure. As Diane in Parental Guidance, Bette Midler is remarkably average. She plays an archetype (the cool, doting grandmother) and she is decent in the role, but she is not particularly funny or original in the part. This is not her watershed performance (I can only assume, because otherwise, I cannot see how her film career would have endured so long). The child actors in Parental Guidance are predictably mediocre, save Bailee Madison. In Parental Guidance, Madison is no longer simply playing off the “cute factor” of a round-cheeked girl her age; she actually performs with moments of maturity and manic deliveries that is different from anything else I have seen her in before. Madison is finally getting a chance to show some range and she seems up to the challenge.

But the heart and soul of Parental Guidance is Billy Crystal (Artie) and Marisa Tomei (Alice) and neither one really shines. Crystal’s comic timing is wasted on mediocre jokes and Tomei is anything but credible as the mother of three. Neither one makes the viewer care about their characters and given that their moves toward emotional reconciliation are the crux of the emotional journey of Parental Guidance, the serious moments fail to resonate. What one is left with is a silly slapstick comedy that does nothing viewers have not seen a hundred times before.

For other works with Bailee Madison, please check out my reviews of:
Once Upon A Time - Season 1
Just Go With It
Letters To God


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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