Parental Guidance Review: A Joyless and Crude Comedy

“This is unbelievable,” Alice (Marisa Tomei) cries out in the new movie, Parental Guidance. Truer words have seldom been spoken in a film. It is unbelievable that such great comedic talent--Tomei, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler, to name a few--have been wasted in such a subpar story. Guidance, which opens on Christmas Day, is silly, unsophisticated and an utter waste of time.

The line of dialogue above is noted by Alice when she arrives home after leaving her three young children with her two over-bearing parents. She is shocked--surprisingly shocked--to learn that her parents who she felt were irresponsible and smug were actually irresponsible and smug.

The story begins with Alice’s father Artie (Crystal) announcing a little league baseball game. I didn’t realize that announcing such games was a full-time paid position but it is for Artie until he is canned for not being hip enough--he doesn’t tweet or Facebook--to fulfill the job obligations. As the story continues, he and his wife Diane (Midler) are asked to babysit their grandchildren for a weekend.

Alice and her husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott) are hesitant to ask her parents for such a favor but they do so just to get the plot moving along. Of course, this sets up the inevitable conflict between one couple’s parenting style and the other's.

Alice and Phil like their children to play on sports teams where a score isn’t kept. They don’t like to discipline their children. They don’t like arguments. They like order and their gadget-packed house, which seems to do everything for them except parent.

On the other hand, Diane and Artie enjoy a more laissez-faire type of parenting. They make messes. They dislike order. They are the type of old-school parents that you can have fun with.

Conflict inevitably ensues as Diane and Artie parent their grandchildren as they see fit.

The dichotomy between such parenting styles is a clichéd concept, but one that can still be used as a comedic premise if the actors and the script are ripe for it.

Audiences know that Marisa Tomei can be funny--see Crazy, Stupid, Love as an example. Audiences also know that Billy Crystal has great comic timing (see Analyze This). And we all know that Midler can be hilarious when she wishes to be. Watch her short-lived sitcom Bette for evidence of that. But none of these actors are given much material to work with here.

None of the parents are likable in the least and the script too often tries to elicit laughs through bathroom humor. Literally. There’s a scene of Artie enticing his grandson to use the restroom as he holds the kid on his lap in a bathroom stall. There’s another scene where one of his grandsons urinates on a professional skater. How low can this film go? Pretty low if you are interested enough to stay in the theater for its complete running time. (I wish I hadn't.)

Parental Guidance is a broad comedy that unabashedly celebrates crudeness and obnoxiousness. It speaks down to its audience and engages in the type of potty humor that Saturday Night Live would admit is in poor taste. The film may come out on Christmas but this movie is no gift. As a matter of fact, it's one of the year's worst.


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