“Crystal and Midler back on the screen in starring roles warms the cockles of my frigid critic’s heart”

 

Warm and schmaltzy, “Parental Guidance” is the movie equivalent of comfort food. It’s funny and warmhearted, not terribly ambitious, but it does the things it sets out to do well.

Billy Crystal and Bette Midler star as young-ish grandparents struggling to reconnect with their grandkids while watching over them for a week. They’re a winning onscreen match, trading a few snipes but with strong base of love and affection underneath. It seemed like just yesterday Crystal was a romantic leading man, and now he’s riffing as a Borsch Belt grandpa. Time goes by.

I don’t mind saying that seeing Crystal and Midler back on the screen in starring roles warms the cockles of my frigid critic’s heart. They both made nice careers out of their engaging comedic personalities, and it was mysterious why they both seemed to fall off Hollywood’s map a decade ago. Crystal’s mostly been doing voice work, and Midler has popped up in occasional bit roles in movies few people saw.

“Parental Guidance” mostly acts as a showcase for the duo’s funny-bone charms, and a splendid one at that. At times director Andy Fickman and screenwriters Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse wade too deep into sappy life-lessons moments. But the laughs are good and plentiful.

Artie Decker (Crystal) is a baseball radio announcer who always dreamed of making it to the bigs calling Giants games, but never made it higher than “De Voice” of the Fresno Triple-A Grizzlies. His wife Diane (Midler) was a TV weather girl back when they were still called that, and has loyally stuck by Artie’s side through countless career moves.

(As is S.O.P. in a Hollywood flick, they own a huge, gorgeous house that should be way beyond the means of a pair of minor-league broadcasters.)

Then they get a surprise call from their only child, Alice (Marisa Tomei), asking them to come to Atlanta to watch over their three kids. It seems Alice’s husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott) has won a big award for his automated home design, and wants to use the occasion as a much-needed vacation for the harried parents.

The trouble is, Alice and Phil have a new Age-y approach to parenting that the Deckers don’t exactly embrace – no sugar, no punishment, etc. The oldsters also can’t figure out the newfangled house, controlled by a computer that sounds like a female version of HAL 9000.

On top of that, Artie is stressed about just getting canned for not being up on social media. “Apps? I have no apps!” he insists indignantly, as if he’s been accused of carrying a disease.

The three young actors are winsome as all get out, and talented little performers to boot. The filmmakers grant them fairly typical kid problem: Harper (Bailee Madison) is a precocious violinist who needs more freedom to grow; Turner (Joshua Rush) has a stutter and is being bullied at school; Barker (Kyle Harrison Brietkopf) is a scallywag tyke with a bloom of unruly red curls and an even wilder imagination.

The interaction between grandkids and grandparents is fun and kooky. Artie gives Barker payoffs for good behavior – 6-year-olds are pretty cheap to bribe — and indulges Turner’s desire to watch the “Saw” horror movies together, resulting in the movie’s biggest laugh line. And Diane helps Harper find her inner teen.

Yes, “Parental Guidance” is pretty forgettable wholesome entertainment. But this is an amiable family-friendly comedy with an impish streak — a bear hug coupled with a few head noogies.

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