Saturday 25 February 2017

Movie Review: Parental Guidance (2012)

A family comedy, Parental Guidance offers healthy doses of playfulness and sentimentality as it explores generational shifts in attitudes towards parenting.

The aging Artie Decker (Billy Crystal) is fired from his job as sports commentator for a Fresno minor league baseball team for being behind the times on social media. Artie and his wife Diane (Bette Midler) are soon asked to babysit their grand kids in Atlanta for a week. Artie's daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei) and her husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott) are a busy modern day couple with three kids: daughter Harper (Bailee Madison) is a tightly wound over-achiever, middle son Turner suffers from a stutter, and the youngest son Barker has an imaginary kangaroo friend.

Artie and Diane have a distant relationship with Alice and her family, and Diane seizes on the babysitting opportunity to try and become a better grandparent. But Alice does not trust her parents, and for good reason: Artie bumble his way into disrupting the kids' routine and undoing Alice's careful parenting methods, as his more blunt and old fashioned values clash with more modern touchy-feely upbringing attitudes.

Directed by Andy Fickman, Parental Guidance aims for amiable and achieves it. The film stays well within a family-friendly domain, and allows Billy Crystal to do what he does best as a youngish grandpa providing caustic commentary on a world moving away from his level of comfort. The comedy is mild but constant, the emotions do creep towards mushy as everyone goes looking for a happy ending, but overall, the film squarely hits its intended if admittedly modest target.

Without breaking any new ground, Parental Guidance pokes away at some worthwhile themes. The clash between more strict, discipline-oriented parenting and the more modern values-based approach quickly comes to the fore, and the film wisely acknowledges imperfections in both philosophies. The story starts with Alice a continent and a lifetime away from her father, his methods clearly having been less than stellar in establishing a lifelong relationship. But Alice and Phil will also learn some lessons from Artie and Diane, with one week of grand parenting shock therapy sufficient to shake the kids loose from some coddled constraints.

Crystal, Midler and Tomei provide plenty of reliable adult talent, while the kids also deserve credit for achieving realism and avoiding excess cutesiness in favour of embracing the anxieties and pressures that come with growing up in a complex world.

Parental Guidance offers the one truth about parenting: everyone does it wrong, but with a sense of humour, that's alright.

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