Stars: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Bailee Madison, Gedde Watanabe | Written by Lisa Addario, Joe Syracuse | Directed by Andy Fickman
The family comedy with a moral message has been a staple of Hollywood for eons. They have also been a go-to for filmmakers looking to fill cinemas with a family audience, because we all know that the wider the demographic the more box-office right? Wrong. Some of Hollywood’s most recent family comedies have under-performed both critically and commercially. Remember Little Fockers? I do (although I wish I didn’t). That film was enough to put you off watching these types of comedies for life. That being said, the trailer for Parental Guidance actually had me in stitches – not enough to make me want to see the film in the cinema admittedly, but now it’s hitting DVD and Blu-ray I decided it was time to test the proverbial family comedy waters and see if director Andy Fickman, who previously helmed not one but TWO movies starring The Rock, could bring anything interesting to a much-maligned genre.
It helped knowing that Flickman was behind one of my favourite gross-out, post-American Pie comedies, the underrated DTV flick Who’s Your Daddy?
The plot of Parental Guidance is as old-school as it’s cast. Baseball-commentator Artie (Crystal), who is accustomed to calling the shots in life, meets his match when he and his eager-to-please wife Diane (Midler) agree to babysit their three grandkids when their go-getting daughter (Tomei) and her husband Phil (Scott) go away for work. But (like all good family comedies come morality tales) when 21st century problems collide with Artie and Diane’s old school methods of paternity, the whole family must overcome their doubts, fears and eccentricities if they’re ever going to be a “real” family again.
Now me reviewing a family comedy may be surprising to some of you long-term readers. After all I tend to focus all my energies on horror, thriller and sci-fi flicks. If I do review comedies, they’re usually of the gross-out kind or the occasional spoof movie. However I do have a soft spot for family-friendly comedies – no doubt due to being raised on the likes of The Great Outdoors, Parenthood, Uncle Buck and National Lampoons Vacation. And I will always give the genre a fair shake, all in the hope of finding a film that measures up to the classic I grew up with. Sometimes you hit gold – I remember loving Meet the Parents on first release – but more often that not you end up with a dud like Tooth Fairy 2 (although its my own fault for even trying to watch that one!). Thankfully Parental Guidance falls more towards the former than the latter.
Besides a surprisingly sweet, old-fashioned yet good-natured script from Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse, whose only other major credit is the 2007 animated movie Surf’s Up, the real highlight of Parental Guidance is the cast. Billy Crystal is his usual acerbic comedic self and has the perfect foil in Bette Midler, whose flamboyancy screams awkward grandma and whose grandiose performance matches Crystal’s loud comedy stylings to a tee. Meanwhile Tom Everett Scott channels his inner geek as Tomei’s techie house designing husband. Speaking of Tomei, whilst she never really feels young enough to be Crystal’s daughter, she does pull off the frazzled daughter role with aplomb and her interaction with the kids of the film really does feel incredibly motherly – especially in the later scenes with the film-stealing Bailee Madison.
However Madison doesn’t really get to shine for most of the movie, merely fulfilling the high maintenance daughter role for the majority. That is until the tear-inducing argument she and Tomei have and the eventual mutual understanding the two come to – those scenes are core to why Parental Guidance succeeds as both a comedy and a family drama. In fact without the films entire final third act this film would have been a typical slapstick-esque comedy a la Meet the Fockers et al., but the switch to the more dramatic and the heart-string tugging story means that you leave the film feeling fulfilled on an emotional level as well as on a humorous one.
A film that made me laugh, touched me emotionally and most of all surprised me, Parental Guidance is released on DVD and Blu-ray on May 27th.