BY IRENE KARRAS
When you become a parent, you become accustomed to some judgement from strangers as well as other parents. You get used to judging yourself against your childhood baggage. You habituate to second-guessing your parenting choices, whether you’re a helicopter parent or a free-ranger. Even your own parents, for whom you were ever-so-special pre-reproduction, now sometimes think they have raised an idiot and often feel compelled to give you “helpful” advice on everything you’re doing wrong with their precious grandchildren. The older your kids get, the more those ingrates judge you, too. Any and all of these cliché conflicts could provide fodder for a smart, biting modern family comedy. Parental Guidance isn’t that.
Here you have the coddling helicopter mom, Alice (Marisa Tomei), and her too-good-to-be-true husband, Phil (Tom Everett Scott), playing the gendered stereotypes of modern, earnest parents to the hilt, without any hint of irony or edginess, rendering them boring. Their three kids are a Type-A overachieving daughter, a sweet but meek stutterer, and a little brat with an imaginary friend and some OCD tendencies. Obviously these freaks are the results of poor parenting.
Bette Midler and Billy Crystal play the practically estranged (and strange) grandparents Alice reluctantly calls in to babysit for a few days so the overly-invested parents can get away for a well-deserved break. Thing is, Artie and Diane (Billy and Bette) were the kind of parents who had interests and hobbies of their own so they ignored Alice a lot growing up and expected her to amuse herself! Obviously Alice is a freak-of-a-mom because she is rebelling against the way she was raised.
Artie loses his beloved radio-announcer job due to his increasing irrelevance in the new social media order, and though this could have been an interesting opportunity for the film and his character, both take the easy route out with crotch-shots instead. Bette’s character seems to be handling aging just fine what with pole-dancing lessons in her living room, but again, where the film could have gone deeper, it resorts to cheap jokes. Obviously these freaks are both sage, outrageous, and underestimated and they will save the day with their kooky wisdom.
That’s the thing–the whole movie is so obvious. The jokes are tired and silly. Bette and Billy seem to be completely coasting through it, waiting for the movie to conclude (which I can really empathize with). Marissa has zero chemistry with anyone else in this film. The conclusion is trite and schmaltzy.
Even my kids, whose standards can be pretty low when some fart jokes are involved, got bored half-way through and abandoned me to finish it on my own. Being a mom is all about self-sacrifice. Obviously.
Irene Karras is a Calgary-based communications consultant and freelance writer with a fondness for 1950s Greek melodramas, 1980s coming of age movies, weird Canadian films, and, by necessity, PG movies. She blogs at misplacedmysassy.wordpress.com and tweets @irene_karras.