Saturday, December 29, 2012

Parental Guidance

Here Comes the Grandparents

It's a Christmas movie, and what's a Christmas movie without the usual family comedy? This time it's three generations coming together, with the grandparents almost always undoing the upbringing principles that their children have instilled in their grandkids, making it a clash of values, and that all round fuzziness when issues get resolved amicably for that one good hurrah, with plenty of comedy along the way.

Billy Crystal last headlined a film in 2002 with Analyze That, and now a decade later this is a much anticipated comeback, with time added on his side to play a grandparent no less. His Artie Decker just got retrenched from his baseball announcer's job for being that dinosaur that he is, contrary to his club's forward looking ambition, and before the day got any worse, wife Diane (Bette Midler) decides to accept the reluctant invitation of their daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei) to babysit the children so that both she and husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott) can spend some time away.

That's basically the gist of the show and you'd come to expect plenty of the usual getting-to-know-yous, with Diane trying her best to make Artie and herself the best grandparents ever for Harper (Bailee Madison), Turner (Joshua Rush) and Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), discovering that the other set of grandparents had more mindshare given time spent with the kids, and have multitudes of photos on the mantle. So the objective is set, but connecting with kids, brought up in a very new-age manner, becomes a tall order for those with traditional, old-school methods. Making things a lot more challenging are the kids' respective issues - Harper being a high-strung, performance based violinist whose audition for an elite school is coming up, Turner stammers and is the school bullies' fodder, while Barker is that pesky little wildcard of a kid with an imaginary friend.

Given that it's something for the year end season and firmly with the intention of being family friendly, this is something which you would hark back to the good ol 80s and 90s comedies when making a comedy doesn't involve swearing, sex or gratuitous nudity. Although there is always room for a relatively mild poop joke or two. Most of it centered around the grandparents finding their way with the kids of today's generation, and trying very hard to bridge that gap, and of course well intention advice that you can bet will have a contrary effect.

But the story gets all heartwarming as you would expect it to, when its inherent message is about family and togetherness, with experience never a bad thing when therein lies knowledge in dealing with deficiencies and overcoming them. What's more, there seems to also be a message for parents to let their children be children, because after all, childhood only comes once, and the more "adult" stuff, can wait. I'm not sure if writers Lisa Addario or Joe Syracuse are baseball fans, but baseballs plays out very prominently in this film, both serving as elements in character backgrounds, and having a number of scenes set on a pitch.

Billy Crystal still shows that he has that comic timing in him, while Bette Midler just had to have a musical number put in somewhere in the film to exercise her vocal chords. There don't behave like the Fockers, but have their own charm as the grandparents. Marisa Tomei had a little extended screen time here being the mother who finds it difficult to let go, and also for the filmmakers to provide her a larger role than originally called for, to exercise that additional bigger name in the ensemble cast.

Parental Guidance played it safe, and kept itself in its namesake ratings territory, suitable for all ages and probably fun for entire families to watch it together, without any fun moment that will embarrass.

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