This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 23rd December 2012
It feels like Billy Crystal has been gone from our screens for a long time (unless you recognised his voice in the animated movie Cars) and thinking back to his comic heyday, some may feel it’s nice to have him back. Paired with Bette Midler (also returned from the acting wilderness) he plays an old-school granddad who is enlisted to look after his grandchildren for a week so the parents can go away. A comedy of errors inevitably ensues as he and Midler’s rather glamorous granny seek to bond with the kids by enforcing rules that counter their parents’ PC expectations.
Although they are now 64 and 67 respectively, thanks to cosmetic surgery (either that or the excellent Californian climate) their characters are pitched as late 50s, and certainly Crystal and Midler have a spring in their step which can’t be photoshopped.
The humour is pretty straightforward, seldom very witty (though there is the odd terrific one-liner, such as 12-year old Harper shovelling contraband cake into her mouth, hissing “You lied to me mother – yoghurt doesn’t taste just like ice cream!”). Crystal’s baseball announcer Artie Decker is nicknamed “Fartie” early on in the piece, and while younger audience members will never tire of the comic value in that, it is indicative of the lack of sophistication in the overall script (from the same pair who wrote Surf’s Up).
But obviously this is a family movie, with family-friendly dialogue and situations that most parents will identify with, whether disparaging the health-conscious, politically-correct parenting displayed by Marisa Tomei’s uptight mom, or recognising the current thinking that removes competition (ie. the losing part) from sports games, and gives every child autonomy of thought and action.
The children (appropriately named Harper, Turner and Barker) are very good in a traditional Hollywood kind of way, and the storyline involving Carl the imaginary friend provides both laughs and surprising pathos (although it really serves as a mechanism to forge the intra-familial relationship).
Parental Guidance may bring old faces out of the woodwork like Meet the Parents did, but being built around a younger family and thus more innocent predicaments, its gentle touch lacks the big comedy moments and memorable lines.
However, though nothing particularly new or clever, it’s a diverting enough movie and an enjoyable family outing to the cinema.