Parental Guidance (review)

Parental Guidance red light Billy Crystal Kyle Harrison Breitkopf Joshua Rush

I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): the trailer made me want to cry

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

This is just a taste of what you’re in for from Parental Guidance: Completely random “humorous” ethnic stereotyping. The public berating of a man for being madly in love with a woman who does not conform to the Hollywood caricature of “hot.” Crotch injury as comedic. The questioning of the masculinity of a man who is kind and gentle. Children’s toilet habits held up for ridicule. Blatant narrative and thematic hypocrisy.

These are family values, mind you. They must be, at least in the minds of those responsible for this trial of a film, which is more akin to the tortures of the damned than the frothy yet tender holiday cinematic treat it thinks it is. Because the entire reason for the existence of Parental Guidance, it would seem, is to smack down what it sees as today’s simultaneously overprotective and overindulgent helicopter parents, as represented by Marisa Tomei (The Ides of March, The Lincoln Lawyer) and Tom Everett Scott (Mars Needs Moms, Race to Witch Mountain), and man, do I feel terrible for these two charming actors, forced into such unfair cartoonish impersonations of people (though they try their damnedest to make them as real as possible). This is the sort of movie that enrages me the most, because it makes me want to rush to defend people and ideas I disagree with. I’m being put in the position of championing people who refuse to let their kids have ice cream, and that’s probably the least of their parenting crimes. I don’t want to be here.

Tomei and Scott are Alice and Phil Simmons of Atlanta, and they have the opportunity to take the first vacation they’ve had since their youngest, now five-ish, was born. And it’s not even really a vacation: it’s a work thing for him, but at least it’s at a beachside resort and away from the kids. But — somewhat preposterously — the only people they can get to babysit are her parents, who have to fly in from Fresno, across the continent, at the last minute. So now it’s left to Artie and Diane Decker — Billy Crystal (Tooth Fairy, Cars) and Bette Midler (The Women, The Stepford Wives), who mug shamelessly throughout like vaudevillians defrosted from the 1950s when the comedic form was already then musty — to fend with overly disciplined tween wannabe violinist Harper (Bailee Madison: Just Go with It, Brothers), shy bullied stutterer Turner (Joshua Rush), and little brat Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf). (These people named their kids Harper, Turner, and Barker? Monsters! I’m kinda not kidding.) They also have to fend with the Simmons’ prototype smarthouse — this is Phil’s work thing — which is clearly a source of great amusement for lazy screenwriters Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse (Surf’s Up) and director Andy Fickman (Race to Witch Mountain): Artie is “hilariously” unfamiliar with Facebook and Twitter, because Old People! Which means Billy Crystal gets to mug at inanimate computer screens and such. It’s as if the movie felt the need to deploy advanced processors to power Crystal’s dragging out of every joke to the point at which there could be no question whatsoever that it was going to fall flat even if they had been kept brief. Parental Guidance: it’s the Avatar of embarrassingly unfunny “comedies.”

Perhaps the most cringeworthy moment of all is when Artie, in response to a gag of Phil’s (which actually is mildly amusing), cracks, “Usually jokes are funny.” Even Crystal seems to cringe at that. It’s hard to remember that there was a time, now admittedly many years ago, when we found Crystal entertaining.

And then, in the end, the movie has the temerity to hold up Artie and Diane’s laid-back parenting skills as hugely helpful to molding the Simmons kids into more reasonable semblances of human beings — guess who fixes Turner’s stutter? (hint: it’s not the expensive and experimental therapist he’s been going to for years) — while at the same time having Artie tell Alice that she’s a great mom, of course she is! This isn’t ironic. This isn’t Artie smoothing over his own parent-child difficulties with his daughter. This is the rancid cherry on top of the festering pile of schmaltz the film has been building for us (in between the poop jokes and baseball bats to the nuts). Because Family! It’s the best thing ever!

Another reason to hate this film: it makes me sound like I’m saying family isn’t great, when it’s merely this self-indulgent, squicky “celebration” of it that makes me so queasy I could barf. Just like in that one scene in which Artie– oh, never mind.

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
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