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PARENTAL GUIDANCE

SYNOPSIS:
Old-school grandfather Artie (Billy Crystal), who is accustomed to calling the shots, meets his match when he and his eager-to-please wife Diane (Bette Midler) agree to babysit their three grandkids when the parents Alice & Phil (Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott) have to go away on business. But when 21st century problems collide with Artie and Diane's old-school methods of tough rules, lots of love and old-fashioned games, it's a recipe for disaster - or change.

Review by:
Billy Crystal and Bette Midler playing grandpa and grandma is in itself a funny picture, although only as a comic sketch. Well, there are several comic sketches in Parental Guidance, the idea on which it rests proving harder to maintain for 104 minutes as a large screen, large laugh movie.

The premise of a sort of culture clash between old school and new age parenting is full of promise, but the screenplay largely fails to exploits the possibilities.

Modern, digital gadgetry is used - like the voice activated computerised home - to symbolise the young parents' addiction to the digital age, feeding into their new age principles of parenting which disallows "don't" in favour of "consider the consequences" even for seven year olds.

Indeed, the film makes a point of poking fun at the pompous, self important and hyper-careful world where children are so protected from life's risks - even competition at sport - that they cannot form any protective behaviours for later life. This relevant and important point is barely engaged as the film pursues often shallow and plastic scenes in search of cheap laughs.

But there are some redeeming scenes in which life truths are in evidence, where real pain is fleetingly felt as the underpinning of the humour. Most of these involve Crystal as a not-quite-crusty gran who keeps making the wrong decisions, but for all the right reasons. Crystal has done better work, but then he is constrained by the script, which he tries to overcome through his natural screen presence.

Bette Midler has similar obstacles to make her grandma a real, full bloodied, multidimensional character, but she gets close. Both Marissa Tomei and Tom Everett as young mum and dad - and she as the oldies' daughter - deliver perfunctory performances, while it's the three kids who turn out to be the acting cavalry, with fine and credible performances, each different, each satisfying.

Baseball is the primary reference for the action, but the film draws on several other American cultural touchstones to try and hit home runs for its domestic audience - families.

The film's biggest sin is overstatement, which it commits repeatedly, undermining the occasional high points. The best part for me is the scene near the end which mirrors the opening scene of Crystal as 'Da Voice', the longtime commentator on the baseball game in his home town. The difference between the two scenes is like the arc of a rainbow, perhaps with less gold but more reality at the tail end.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

PARENTAL GUIDANCE (PG)
(US, 2012)

CAST: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Bailee Madison, Madison Lintz, Tom Everett Scott, Christine Lakin, Rhoda Griffis, Gedde Watanabe, Joshua Rush, Kyle Harrison Breitkopf

PRODUCER: Billy Crystal, Peter Chernin, Samantha Sprecher

DIRECTOR: Andy Fickman

SCRIPT: Lisa Dario, Joe Syracuse, rewrite by Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mendel

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dean Semler

EDITOR: Kent Beyda

MUSIC: Marc Shaiman

PRODUCTION DESIGN: David J. Bomba

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2012







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