December 25, 2012



PARENTAL GUIDANCE – Not At Any Price – Stupefying “Family” Sitcom Too Little For the Big Screen

This is said with all due respect to a pair of performers who have entertained millions for decades, but really, don’t celebrities ever look in the mirror?  If not, don’t they have people to look in the mirror for them?  Billy Crystal and Bette Midler, both in their mid-sixties, are so desperate to avoid the reality of age and its wrinkles that in their new comedy PARENTAL GUIDANCE, they look like puffed-up vinyl replicas of themselves, frozen vessels from which their familiar voices emerge. It’s a sad commentary on our culture that even here, playing grandparents, they feel the need to simulate versions of themselves twenty years younger than they are.

Sadly, there’s more than enough time to study the stars’ faces during Parental Guidance, because the movie doesn’t require you to pay much attention, let alone laugh.  The script by Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse is about at the level of a typical episode of Guys With Kids (except 4x as long), and director Andy Fickman is best known for The Game Plan and Race For Witch Mountain.  No one outdoes themselves here.

The contrivance-laden concept is simple.  Artie and Diane (Crystal and Midler) don’t spend much time with their grandkids (they’re “the other grandparents”), mostly because their daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei, painfully wasted) can barely stand to be in the same room with them.  But when Alice and hubby Phil (Tom Everett Scott) have the chance to take a sudden vacation, there’s no one else to leave with the children.  So Artie and Diane have the weekend to bemoan the modern, neurotic, gadget-minded way that perfectionist musician Harper (Bailee Madison), stutterer Turner (Joshua Rush) and misbehaving Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) are being brought up, and before the movie is over, all have benefited from (particularly) Artie’s crotchety yet simpler, old-fashioned ways. (Of course, Artie’s professed belief in life as it was lived in the good old days is belied by his artificial face, but that’s another story.)  Following the ethos of classic Hollywood crap, everything traditional is better than anything new.

Parental Guidance is the kind of mechanical “well-made” comedy in which every single detail raised in the first act, from Artie’s wish (he’s a minor-league baseball radio announcer) to one day announce a Giants game to Barker’s imaginary playmate, has to be resolved neatly by the closing credits.  There isn’t an instant of behavior that isn’t mandated by the plot, nor a moment in which anyone concerned acts like a genuine family member of anyone else.

Crystal and Midler are like old vaudevillians during the Blitz, still able to do the old soft-shoe while dialogue bombs are falling around them (they actually do one here, the only charming bit in the whole movie), and one hopes Tomei enjoyed working with them enough to endure having to recite her lines in this script.  Apart from that, Parental Guidance is a complete loss, a by-the-numbers piece of dreariness that feels longer than its actual length, completely lacking in any visual style despite photography by old pro Dean Semler.

This week, with families struggling to find something all generations can sit through at the multiplex, may be the only week of the year when something like Parental Guidance can make some money.  Its script, like its stars, feels stretched, peeled and injected in the empty pursuit of temporary success.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."