Billy Crystal loves his grand kids as much as any proud grandpa, but after spending some quality time with his a few years back he confessed he could use a martini.
Grandparents can relate. Kids can be sweet, tender, adorable … and a handful.
That confession registered with Crystal’s friends and sparked “Parental Guidance,” the comic actor’s first major film role since 2002’s “Analyze That.” The film casts Crystal as a befuddled grandfather who, along with his longtime bride (Bette Midler), watch their grandchildren when their daughter (Marisa Tomei) goes on vacation.
Turns out parenting styles have changed drastically through the years, from the gruff but kind approach favored by Crystal’s generation to today’s therapeutic-style time outs and regimented play dates.
“Parental Guidance” director Andy Fickman says cast and crew members young and old could relate to the generational comedy on display, routinely sharing their own stories that echoed the film’s comic bits. Fickman recalls his own mother turning to baby guru Dr. Spock’s books on during his own childhood no matter how big or small the crisis.
Crystal and Midler took it from there, Fickman says.
Consider a throwaway moment early in the film when the grandparents take a call from Tomei’s character. Crystal was supposed to simply press a button to put her on speaker phone. Crystal struggled with the buttons, and Midler quickly egged him on, turning a sequence meant simply to move the story along into one Fickman says drew praise from a studio executive during the dailies process.
“Can you do more of it?” the executive asked him.
Of course, working with two screen veterans took some understanding. Fickman once worked under Midler in her production company before moving on to direct films like “The Game Plan” and “She’s the Man.” So when enmeshed in a scene Midler would sometimes feel the urge to say, “cut” before her own director.
Fickman chuckles about the power struggle, comparing those moments to a football coaching trusting his team’s game breakers.
“If you have a star quarterback, you assume there’s plenty of time when [Patriots coach] Bill Belichick knows trusting Tom Brady is going to lead them to victory,” he says.
“Parental Guidance” is that rare film directly targeting older moviegoers. It’s even got the support of the AARP. Today’s movie goers likely know Crystal’s voice from “Monster’s, Inc.” rather than “When Harry Met Sally” or his stint on “Saturday Night Live.” Midler has focused more on her stage performing in recent years than any major film projects.
“I realized that one of the great opportunities with [‘Parental Guidance’] was people getting to see them and discovering them,” Fickman says.