Dan Lybarger on Parental Guidance: Maybe the worst of the year

December 28, 2012

Parental Guidance
Grade: 62
Cast: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Bailee Madison, Joshua Rush, Kyle Harrison Breitkopf, Jennifer Crystal Foley, Rhoda Griffis, Gedde Watanabe
Director: Andy Fickman
Rating: PG, for some rude humor
Running time: 104 minutes

By Dan Lybarger for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and blood, dirt & angels


It’s never a good idea to assume youngsters are stupid. Many times they embarrass their elders because they know things that are supposed to be beyond the grasp of their little heads.

Somebody forgot to pass this information along to the makers of Parental Guidance, a movie about family that makes viewers wonder why anyone bothers to breed. Director Andy Fickman looks at three generations of a clan and manages to make all of them seem equally loathsome.

Billy Crystal plays Artie Decker, the voice of bush league baseball’s Fresno Grizzlies. For an announcer for a minor league team, he sure makes a comfortable living and even has a few bobbleheads made of himself.

Sadly, Artie falls from his exalted position because management thinks he’s too old. At the prodding of his wife, Diane (Bette Midler), Artie agrees to quit moping and join her to help watch his daughter Alice’s (Marisa Tomei) brood while she and her inventor husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott) go on a cruise.

What follows is supposed to be an upbeat, family-friendly alternative to Les Miserables and Django Unchained. While those films are heavy and dark, Parental Guidance is far more depressing than either.

There’s a consistent sense of laziness and even downright indifference throughout. Because there are kids involved, the filmmakers seem to think that it’s OK to dumb down the gags and even repeat gags from other films that weren’t that funny to begin with.
Unless you’ve been spending your life waiting for Crystal to be whacked in the groin by an aluminum baseball bat or deal with a child’s bathroom issues, Parental Guidance is going to be a long, painful slog.

Crystal is credited as a producer, but the script does him and Midler, two formidable comic talents, no favors. Occasionally, the two throw out wisecracks that only serve to remind viewers how annoying the previous scene was. Tomei appears to be the only performer who approaches the proceedings with any sort of enthusiasm or finesse. Apparently, she’s just keeping her acting chops up until better work comes along.

What’s especially irritating about Parental Guidance is that two of Alice’s tots, Turner (Joshua Rush) and Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), appear to have special needs. Featuring that in the comedy is a challenge the filmmakers fail miserably.
Stammering and imaginary friends are not inherently funny, nor are they conditions that merit derision. Haven’t these folks seen The King’s Speech for crying out loud?

If you really need a film to enjoy with your tots this season, go see Monsters, Inc. It features Crystal in a much more dignified role that capitalizes on his talents, and more importantly, it was made by people who feel that children are entitled to the best movies available, not the stuff Santa saves for truly evil children.

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