Comedy puts Midler back on big screen
By Ian Spelling
NEW YORK TIMES SYNDICATE Thursday December 27, 2012 7:08 AM
“Whoopi said, ‘I don’t think I would have made it in this day and age,’ ” Midler recalls. “I said, ‘Please, you? What about me?’ ”
“It’s a very, very different world,” she says. “It’s, in a funny way, like what movies used to be, when movies were only about gods and goddesses. You had to have this kind of a face and this kind of a voice.”
In a flash, Midler’s mood brightens and her trademark sass resurfaces.
“But, you know what, I did make it,” she says. “So good for me — and good for her, too.”
Hard as it might be to believe, Midler turned 67 on Dec. 1. In the course of her career, she has sold millions of albums; performed live throughout the world; raised tidy sums of money for charity; and acted in movies and on television, proving herself adept at both comedy and drama, with credits spanning from The Rose (1979), Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986) and Beaches (1988) to Gypsy (1993), The First Wives Club (1996) and Then She Found Me (2007).
Since 2010, when she completed a 180-performance, two-year run of The Showgirl Must Go On at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, the Divine Miss M has been missing in action.
That changed yesterday, when Midler returned to the screen in the family comedy Parental Guidance. She and Billy Crystal play Diane and Artie Decker, an old-school couple whose high-strung daughter (Marisa Tomei) very reluctantly calls upon them to watch her three young children while she joins her husband (Tom Everett Scott) on a business trip.
“I’ve known Billy for years and years, because I lived in L.A. and I used to see him out and about,” Midler says. “I’ve always admired him and liked his work. I loved When Harry Met Sally . . . (1989), loved City Slickers (1991) and loved Mr. Saturday Night (1992). We’re very similar in temperament, and our senses of humor are pretty similar.”
Though every bit a comedy, Parental Guidance also tugs at the heartstrings, Midler says. Crystal’s character is a good guy, but one who has been remiss in his duties as a father because he was so wrapped up in his career as a minor-league-baseball announcer. He has time to reconnect with his daughter and get to know his grandchildren only because the team, aiming to modernize, has fired him.
“This is a second chance for him,” Midler says, “and, in order for him to find self-knowledge, he has to slay the dragons, who are these grandkids. I call it Home Alone for Grandparents. We are stuck there with those three kids. They’re not monsters, but . . . they are set in their ways and they are not budging.”
A highlight of Parental Guidance is a simple, sweet scene in which Diane and Artie sing and dance together in their daughter’s kitchen. Unbeknownst to them, the three grandchildren are perched on the stairs nearby, soaking it in.
The genesis of the scene, Midler reports, was that she and Crystal were trying to keep the three child actors from running amok on the set.
“We’d been singing to the kids,” she says. “We’d sing to keep them calm and happy during the setups, which could be very long. So what else can you do, except sing? And we sang. We sang the novelty songs by the greats, by the Coasters and the Drifters and people like that. They’d never heard any of this music, because they’re three generations away from us.
“Then . . . (the filmmakers) came and said, ‘Let’s do a song in the
movie,’ ” she says. “(Director) Andy Fickman came to me. I think it was Billy’s idea, but he didn’t want to tell me. So they said, ‘Will you?’ I said, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ They said, ‘ Please, please,’ and I said, ‘OK.’
“It worked out,” Midler says, “and the reason I like it is that there’s us and then there’s them, the kids watching. That’s the magic of the scene, really, for them to see and hear us, for them to experience something they’ve never experienced.”
Midler has been all over the map promoting Parental Guidance but has nothing else lined up. As she puts it, she’s “assessing the situation” and is in no rush to do anything.
“I’ve got my family,” she adds, referring to her husband, Martin von Haselberg, and their 26-year-old daughter, Sophie.
“These things take up a considerable amount of time.”