Parental Guidance | Movie review
Billy Crystal and Bette Midler shape up some high-strung grandkids in this broad comedy.
“There’s no cure for dumb,” utters Billy Crystal’s minor-league baseball announcer in the opening scene of Parental Guidance. Is this a preemptive deflection of blame, the comedian’s sly way of saying, “Hey guys, I did my best here”? Realizing they’re the “other grandparents,” Crystal and wife Bette Midler—the dream comic duo of 1992!—volunteer to look after three sheltered, high-strung grandchildren while the couple’s grown daughter (Marisa Tomei) and her husband (Tom Everett Scott) are out of town. The family lives in a Demon Seed–ish “smart home,” and everything about the kids’ coddling, progressive upbringing seems designed to provoke eye rolls. Thank goodness, then, for the intervention of these aging role models, who supply the discipline and fun the little ones need.
It’s hard to say what’s worse: the sneering disdain for modern child-rearing tactics or the hacky generation-clash humor. (With Crystal busting jokes about Twitter and the X Games, it’s probably the latter.) Sometime between an idyllic kick-the-can montage and a funeral for an imaginary friend, the film teeters over the edge into unbearable sentimentality. From here, every other scene is a heart-to-heart, with director Andy Fickman ladling on the twinkling piano music as Crystal or Midler takes a knee to impart some nugget of wisdom upon their adolescent charges. Leave it to Tomei, countering the broad mugging with a real performance, to supply a lone hint of pathos. Were there a cure for this much dumb, she’d be it.