Tis the season for another schlocky family comedy. Instead of getting a holiday themed romp with Hollywood’s latest dysfunctional family, we get a slightly different romp starring Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as grandparents for a dysfunctional family. Parental Guidance is the story of grandparents watching their grandchildren while the controlling parents are away, from the director of such winners as The Game Plan starring Dwayne The Rock Johnson and You Again starring Sigourney Weaver and Jamie Lee Curtis. Perhaps you should avoid his past transgressions and give this seemingly mundane comedy a chance.
When her husband’s dream project, a fully functioning automated house, is up for a huge award, Alice Simmons, played by the fantastic Marisa Tomei, has to find someone to watch their children so they can attend the award ceremony on the other side of the country. They must turn to her parents, Artie and Diane, to swoop in at the last moment and watch the three younglings. Alice and Phil aren’t traditional parents as you would expect, Artie and Diane find themselves wrapped in more red tape than a government office and Alice has trouble trusting her parents and letting go of her kids to be there for her husband.
I went into Parental Guidance expecting an enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable family comedy, but I got more than I expected. Far too often in these movies, not only does everything work out fine in the end, but no one makes any real mistakes. Everyone leads their happy lives, getting into madcap circumstances along the way. Sure, Phil and Alice may not have the most down to earth jobs, she’s a high class web designer and he’s a home system architect, where Artie is a minor league baseball announcer and Diane was a weather girl, but the jobs are a means to an end. Even then, this movie may use their nice jobs to get to plot points, but they touch on grounds too few films do.
Most family movies have one person or a group messing up and seeing the error of their ways. Parental Guidance makes sure that everyone fails at some point. No one is perfect, no one is the ideal parent helping a misguided soul out of the dark. Yes, this family seems way more perfect than anyone I know, but it’s not like their problems are solved by some wise old grandparent or some hotshot young parent with the new knowhow that the older people just don’t understand. This is a movie about understanding, about realizing that everyone makes mistakes and through those we find who we are and who we want to be.
There was just something about Parental Guidance that got to me. I saw this movie with my mother and I would encourage anyone interested to take their family. As I’ve said, the on-screen family seems so perfect and in such a good situation that they shouldn’t have any problems, but the problems they do encounter didn’t just feel manufactured to give some drama or comedy, everything felt like the problems I had with my own parents. Characters went through moments that would actually teach them something, instead of an arbitrary situation to learn some arbitrary lesson. No one had their world view changed, instead characters simple looked at situations from a slightly different angle and benefited from it, and that’s usually how the world works.
Sure, Parental Guidance is another family comedy filled with cliched plot points and jokes you’ve seen before, but there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. Sometimes we need the tried and true formula. Life is filled with cliched moments and jokes we’ve heard a thousand times before, what Parental Guidance gives us is heart and a look into what truly matters. Yes, we know these things, but sometimes we need to be reminded of them. Don’t go expecting to be blown away by some transcendent film experience, but expect a great comedy that you can take your children or your parents to. This is a family film, so take your family and have some fun, that’s all the creators wanted and that’s exactly what I had.
In Theaters: December 25, 2012
Runtime: 1 hour 36 minutes
Rating: PG (for some rude humor)
Director: Andy Fickman
Cast: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Bailee Madison
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Official Site: http://www.parentalguidancemovie.com
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