Billy Crystal and Bette Midler play Artie and Diane, grandparents that cling to the old guard of parenting. Artie isn’t above using the threat of a spanking. Marisa Tomei is Alice, their daughter. She and her husband Phil played by Tom Everett Scott, are new-agey parents in their 40s. Their kids are named Harper, Turner and Barker for goodness’ sake! They promote hip, contemporary child rearing ideas. Instead of acting up, they offer ‘use your words’. Rather than saying ‘no’ they try ‘consider the consequences’. Both parenting styles clash when Phil wins an award and the couple must travel out of town to accept it. Alice asks her mom and dad to watch their overly coddled kids and of course problems arise. I will admit that on paper, Parental Guidance sounds like a recipe for disaster and indeed the critical reviews would support this. However I had a much different reaction. This is a light hearted frolic concerning family that upholds traditional values in a refreshing and yes, very funny commentary about raising kids.
The nicest surprise is that everyone is extremely likable. Despite opposing points of view each individual comes across as a human being with valid concerns. No one is used as the butt of jokes, treated as buffoon to be ridiculed. The two older kids are a somewhat bland, but at least they’re not the typical precocious little brats that usually populate these types of pictures. Special mention should go to Kyle Harrison Breitkopf as Barker, the youngest child. He’s a red headed imp that wrings laughs simply from his goofy demeanor. He could stand some discipline. There’s a subplot of sorts involving the ultra modern “smart house” in which the younger parents live. Father Phil is a high-tech inventor and has created a prototype domicile with a command center that announces guests in a robotic voice. It also seems to have a personality with full rein of the various appliances. I legitimately laughed out loud when the house loudly inquires if Grandpa Artie would like to continue watching R rated horror movie Saw with little Turner just as Mom walks in the room.
Parental Guidance is a sweet, warm family friendly comedy. Director Andy Fickman has built a solid career on directing these kinds of films. Like The Game Plan and Race to Witch Mountain, Parental Guidance has been successful with audiences, if not the critics. Granted it isn’t innovative. If you’re looking for Hitchcockian twists and turns, I’d have to challenge why you’d choose a PG rated comedy from Walden Media in the first place. You sort of know that the assorted contrivances will predictably work out in the end. But the journey in getting there is amusing and therein lies the fun. The story mines humor from the generation gap. The subject of parenting is explored in a humorous and delightful way. The tone is cheerful and comforting. I was surprised at how balanced the screenplay is too. The evenhanded script goes to great lengths to present an objective view of each adult with faults as well as virtues. They all are united in the fact that they want what’s best for the kids. There’s a genuine respect for these characters that rarely panders to the lowest common denominator. Alright when Billy Crystal’s crotch meets a child’s baseball bat, that’s kind of an exception.