Parental Guidance

PARENTAL GUIDANCE. Starring: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Joshua Rush, Bailee Madison, and Kyle Harrison Breitkopf. Directed by Andy Fickman. Rated PG (Mild themes). 105 min.

This American family comedy has been produced for holiday-time enjoyment. When their busy daughter, Alice Simmons (Marisa Tomei) takes time off to be with her working husband, Phil (Tom Everett Scott), Artie Decker (Billy Crystal) and his wife, Diane (Bette Midler), fly in on request to babysit their three children, Harper (Bailee Madison), Turner (Joshua Rush) and Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf). Recovering from just losing his job, Artie is reluctant, but Diane is willing to help.

The Simmons family live in a house with a centrally operated, automatic computer system, which manages everyone inside it, and before long, things go inevitably wrong. Artie and Diane try modern-day methods to control their grandchildren, and eventually succumb to applying the methods their own parents employed to keep them in check when they were children.

Artie is an old-style parent, and Diane desperately likes to please anyone who asks something of her. They quickly discover their own inadequacies as parents, but not before the grandchildren put them through some exasperating paces. At the end of it all, one knows that love and understanding will shine through, and they do, and there is never any risk to family-values eventually winning the day. Messages abound about believing in yourself, the significance of closeness and empathy, and the importance of being loved.

This is a generation comedy that pits parents and grandparents against modern-day grandchildren. Not surprisingly, the grandchildren are computer-savvy and use their expertise to confuse and befuddle, and they are particularly adept at making sure their manipulative strategies succeed. After enduring embarrassment on several fronts, Artie finds himself battling modern day technology to beat his grandchildren at their game by applying old-fashioned methods based on warmth and affection.

Both Billy Crystal and Bette Milder are very good comic talents, and they give everything they have to a comedy that relies heavily on situational farce. Their acting style is well suited to finding comedy in ridiculously difficult situations, and they rise to the challenge. Facial shock, confusion, mock horror, and surprise are their forte, and they engage in frequent one-liners that communicate their frustrations wittily, while also extracting our sympathy.

Comedies that depend on farce for their impact always work better in some situations than in others, and this film is no exception to that rule. When smiles and laughter come in this movie, Crystal and Midler are nearly always there in the centre of them. Consistent with the film’s classification, some of the language is coarse, but for the most part, crudity is kept well in check and the film is reasonably child-friendly.

The film is laughter-producing, reliable fare for the holiday season, and shows two highly seasoned comedians at work, having a good time. There are no stabbings, horror scenarios, or gut-wrenching scenes, only grand-parents and their charges trying to cope with each other in fairly predictable ways, and with a heavy dose of sentimentality thrown in at the finish for good measure.

This movie is a relatively slight one, and no where near the quality of "Parenthood" (1989), but it is a movie that clearly entertains. One does not go to this film to learn how parents or their children should behave intelligently. Rather, one goes to smile and understand, and to know that it will all turn out well in the end.

Peter W Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

Twentieth Century Fox.

Out 26th. December, 2012.