Title: Parental Guidance
Director: Andy Fickman (‘The Game Plan,’ ‘You Again‘)
Starring: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott
Parents and their children often have disagreements over how to live their lives, and they continue to have fights over the choices they make as they grow older, even if they live across the country from each other. This is certainly the case in the new comedy ‘Parental Guidance,’ which offers a comedic outlook on how grandparents want to connect with their grandchildren, but are pressured to follow the parenting structure set by their children. While the family film does offer humor from lead actor Billy Crystal, whose character isn’t afraid to stand up for himself, his beliefs and his family, the lack of true character development makes the story feel unstructured and unrelatable at times.
‘Parental Guidance’ follows minor league baseball commentator Artie Decker (played by Crystal), who’s fired from his beloved job after thirty years of service, when his team’s management decides to modernize the franchise. Just as he begins grieving his lost career, his daughter, Alice Simmons (portrayed by Marisa Tomei), calls to ask if he and his eager-to-please wife, Diane (played by Bette Midler), would be willing to watch her three children-Harper (portrayed by Bailee Madison), Turner (played by Joshua Rush) and Barker (portrayed by Kyle Harrison Breitkopf). Alice reluctantly calls her parents, because she desperately wants to take a vacation with her husband, Phil (played by Tom Everett Scott), who is being honored for his latest domestic-living invention.
Much to Artie’s unwillingness, Diane readily accepts Alice’s invitation, as they haven’t seen their grandchildren in almost a year. Upon arriving at their daughter’s home, the two grandparents initially find it difficult to follow Alice and Phil’s helicopter parenting style. But during the family’s week-long reunion, they learn incorporating Artie and Diane’s methods of tough rules with love and old-fashioned games into Alice and Phil’s encouraging parenting style really can reunite a family.
Screenwriters Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse, who penned ‘Parental Guidance,’ not only incorporated amusing jokes into the comedy that will appeal to all family members, but also the differences each generation takes in their approach to working and family relationships. On the surface, the film essentially chronicles the awkward tension between Artie and his grandchildren, as they don’t know how to relate to each other. Artie, the new temporary patriarch of the family, not only doesn’t understand his grandchildren’s technology, from their iPods to their video games, but also can’t comprehend their delicate approach to handling everything from peer pressure to their eating habits to their activities. But he isn’t afraid to subtly and lightheartedly push the boundaries of political correctness, from encouraging Turner to standing up for himself against bullies to questioning why his older grandson’s baseball game coddles each player by allowing them to continue hitting until they get a run.
While the comedy, which marks the return of Crystal to live action comedy after a ten-year absence, is an at times comical look into the emotional strain between the numerous family generations, it unfortunately fails to highlight the talent of the other actors. Director Andy Fickman continuously focused on Artie’s questioning of his daughter’s parenting skills and his at time disastrous attempts of impressing and disciplining his grandchildren, but disappointingly very rarely focused on developing Alice and Phil’s relationship and parenting. For a movie built upon the idea that grandparents are clashing with their children over the way their grandchildren are being raised, the director focused entirely too much on Artie’s life and motivations, and ineptly looked over Alice and Phil’s life. The meager plot-line and character development for ‘Parental Guidance’ therefore unfortunately seems better suited for a family-driven sitcom episode to introduce the grandparents onto the series than the story for an hour-and-45-minute film.
Despite the lapse in true character development of Alice and Phil, the comedy does surprisingly uphold distinct sub-plots for the three children in the story. The 13-year-old Madison emotionally showcased Harper’s desire to find a normal adolescent identity outside of continuously playing the violin. The actress played the oldest Simmons child as embracing her grandparents’ more free-spirited approach to parenting, despite not not wanting to admit it, as she finally feels that she can do what she wants, such as going out with friends.
Rush initially played Turner as humbly accepting the fact that he has a speech impediment, and being upset that his grandfather doesn’t seem to accept the methods he takes to improve his speech. But once he realizes that his grandfather does in fact care about his improvements, after playing him the broadcast that encouraged him to become a sportscaster, Turner naturally begins to feel better about himself. Breitkopf, meanwhile, realistically plays the younger Simmons boy as holding onto his imaginary friend, a kangaroo named Charlie, as it gives him the same sense of security that his parents give him. But as his grandfather gives him the courage to truly be himself, Barker finds the courage to be the person he wants to be.
‘Parental Guidance’ succeeds in its attempt to offer a comical look into how the differing parenting choices each generation makes, and how each person chooses to live their life, unwittingly strains family relationships. While the comedy is natural outlet for Crystal to make his return to a leading theatrical role by showing his comedic talents and showing the real difficulties families often face, unfortunately the film fails to truly develop the other adult characters. While the strain between Artie and his daughter isn’t fully explained and isn’t always evident, the talented portrayals of his three grandchildren will clearly resonate with younger audiences and the adults who raise them.
Written by: Karen Benardello