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Parental Guidance

2012 | 104 min | PG | 1.85:1

Parental Guidance


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Theatrical release date

 25 December, 2012
 26 December, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from Parental Guidance Blu-ray

Parental Guidance Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, December 24, 2012

Billy Crystal hasn’t starred in a major motion picture since 2002, where he burned off considerable audience goodwill with the abysmal sequel, “Analyze That.” There was a bit part in the “Tooth Fairy” with Dwayne Johnson, but let’s not dogpile on the guy. Considering he’s been away from screen comedy for an eternity in Hollywood years, perhaps Crystal could’ve taken just a little more care with his return to the multiplex. Instead, he’s sprinted back to mind-numbing nonsense with “Parental Guidance,” an ugly, honestly baffling family comedy that repeatedly turns to the toxicity of bodily fluid humor to bang its comedic gong. I’d write that this is the worst production Crystal has been involved with this year, but we all saw the Oscars.

After losing his job announcing for a minor league baseball team, Artie (Billy Crystal) is horrified to learn that wife Diane (Bette Midler) has agreed to help watch their grandkids while daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei) spends a week celebrating husband Phil’s (Tom Everett Scott) latest invention: a computer home security/nanny system (voiced by Helen Mirren). With grandkids Harper (Bailee Madison), Turner (Joshua Rush), and little Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) practically strangers, Artie is worried about keeping up with their demands, while Alice is careful to explain and impart her helicopter parenting philosophy to the old school ‘rents. Frustrated with the 21st century way of raising children, Artie and Diane hope to employ their knowledge on the subject, with their permissive ways disturbing the tight, domineering routine of the household.

Director Andy Fickman is no stranger to the absence of a funny bone, having helmed the wretched “You Again” in 2010. “Parental Guidance” picks up where that feature left off, continuing the filmmaker’s mission to take a perfectly reasonable premise and transform it into a tuneless sitcom with wilted jokes, shamelessly broad performances, and a flaccid message of household unity. “Parental Guidance” is aimed toward a younger demographic, with Crystal in the Uncle Buck role as Artie, trying to use his supervisory instincts from the 1970s on kids who’ve been raised by a disembodied robot voice, taught to “use their words” while ingesting healthy foods, and partaking in artistically enriching hobbies. The conflict is basic, only requiring five passable scenes of confusion capable of pulling out a few laughs, watching Artie and Diane lose their patience with the structured, indulgent atmosphere of child rearing and its overreliance on screen-based distractions. The screenplay by Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse doesn’t offer a single moment of interesting anxiety, and there’s not a chuckle to be found in the entire effort.

What passes for humor here? Well, there’s a scene where Artie, disgusted to be attending a little league game where all the kids swing until they hit and every contest ends in a tie, harasses one player who’s clearly struck out. The kid wallops Artie in the groin with a baseball bat and the grandfather responds by vomiting all over his assailant. Another moment finds Artie desperately trying to score an announcing gig with ESPN during their coverage of the X Games, forced to bring Barker along during a test run. The child, wandering away due to bathroom need, promptly urinates on a halfpipe, causing Tony Hawk to wipeout on the yellow liquid. There’s also a sequence where Artie is coerced into singing a friendly song about defecating to help Barker move his bowels in a rancid public restroom. And the film ends with a brief nosepicking sight gag. I’m honestly surprised the production didn’t make room for a semen joke. Perhaps Fickman is saving it for his next gig.

Plasticized sentiment doesn’t take long to creep into view, accompanied by hackneyed piano twinkling to hammer home the importance of the moment. It’s all so terribly false and barely considered, with the same troubled parenting and pre-teen rebellion beats found on any ABC Family program. The only difference here is a baseball theme, extended to Artie’s efforts to cure Turner of his stutter by teaching him the same announcing skills he shared with Alice, thus bridging the generation gap. And the very essence of the screenplay, where child rearing styles duke it out for supremacy, is over before it even begins, with Artie and Diane’s questionable methods of supervision immediately identified as the victor for reasons unknown, celebrated with a game of Kick the Can (Mumblety-peg would’ve been funnier) intended to loosen up these tightly-wound tykes. In “Parental Guidance,” neglect, overstimulation, and threat of physical harm are celebrated. Patience and communication are for jerks.

“Parental Guidance” is a terrible, borderline irresponsible movie masquerading as an endearing four-quadrant feature out to melt hearts and trigger laughs over the holiday season. It’s manufactured, not created with care, and it doesn’t offer a single honest emotion during its run time. It’s pure junk.

Starring: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Bailee Madison, Tom Everett Scott, Gedde Watanabe
Director: Andy Fickman

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