Warm and schmaltzy, â€œParental Guidanceâ€ is the movie equivalent of comfort food. Itâ€™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. Theyâ€™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 heâ€™s riffing as a Borsch Belt grandpa. Time goes by.
I donâ€™t mind saying that seeing Crystal and Midler back on the screen in starring roles warms the cockles of my frigid criticâ€™s heart. They both made nice careers out of their engaging comedic personalities, and it was mysterious why they both seemed to fall off Hollywoodâ€™s map a decade ago. Crystalâ€™s mostly been doing voice work, and Midler has popped up in occasional bit roles in movies few people saw.
â€œParental Guidanceâ€ mostly acts as a showcase for the duoâ€™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 â€œDe Voiceâ€ 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 Artieâ€™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 Aliceâ€™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 donâ€™t exactly embrace â€“ no sugar, no punishment, etc. The oldsters also canâ€™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. â€œApps? I have no apps!â€ he insists indignantly, as if heâ€™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 â€“ 6-year-olds are pretty cheap to bribe â€” and indulges Turnerâ€™s desire to watch the â€œSawâ€ horror movies together, resulting in the movieâ€™s biggest laugh line. And Diane helps Harper find her inner teen.
Yes, â€œParental Guidanceâ€ is pretty forgettable wholesome entertainment. But this is an amiable family-friendly comedy with an impish streak â€” a bear hug coupled with a few head noogies.