“Some things are classic—some things are just old,” wrote Bob Walkenhorst. Viewers attending showings of the new movie “Parental Guidance” are going to enjoy or be bored by the film depending on whether they think it is harkening back to great cinematic entertainment of the past or else that it is just tired crud from the forties.
The movie stars Billy Crystal and Bette Midler, two fugitives from earlier pop culture decades, as Artie and Diane, a married couple from Fresno who agree to babysit their three grandchildren for a week. The kids live now in Atlanta with their mother, played by Marisa Tomei, who won an Oscar in 1992, and their father, played by Tom Everitt Scott, the drummer in 1996’s “That Thing You Do!,” a movie about the 1960s.
And then “Parental Guidance” features Tony Hawk, who is in his own way maybe the most famous member of the cast. But the face of skateboarding now looks almost as old as does Crystal. And in some ways skateboarding itself seems dated pop culture.
Artie and Diane, respectively a baseball broadcaster (recently fired) and a former t.v. “weather girl,” have always been flashy units. Perhaps this is why their daughter Alice hasn’t gone out of her way to associate them with their grandkids. It may also be why she has adopted the film’s cartoon version of contemporary child-raising fads.
So the kids are in for a shock when Grandma and “Farty,” as they call Crystal’s character, tells them “no” or seems unsympathetic to the ginger treatment one’s stuttering and another’s imaginary friend have gotten. The kids really are sort of messed up. Older son Turner attends speech therapy sessions where the kids don’t speak, pitches in a baseball league where there are no outs, and is harassed by a bully.
Younger son Barker has toilet problems besides taking advice from the invisible kangaroo. And daughter Harper (played by veteran Bailee Madison) has gotten equally wrong but completely different parental treatment from her mother, who wants her to use her musical talent even if that means practicing in place of going to parties and suffering the direct complaints of a Slavic violin teacher.
Slowly, and not at all sequentially, the kids begin to make some progress in solving their problems as their few days with the grandparents go on. In the end we get what we all expected from the top. Like classic movies, “Parental Guidance” has a conclusion the audience sees coming a long way off.
In contrast to something more contemporary (and weaker) like “The Guilt Trip,” “Parental Guidance” has a lot of jokes, most of them offered up by Crystal as if he were doing a vaudeville routine. His face painted with day-glow stuff by one of the kids, Artie runs around a concert hall chasing the youngest boy and identifies himself to a critic of his actions as “Mr. Voodoo Man.” Artie doesn’t get any of the new technologies. He is mystified and affronted when in reference to internet publicity his boss asks him “Has anybody poked you?”
The vaudeville-on-film insinuation is strengthened by the film’s editing. It feels as if director Andy Fickman shot it long and was asked to cut it until it was brisk. The result isn’t jerky, but it is artificial seeming.
Nevertheless, the movie has some dumb laughs in it, usually from jokes as the slapstick is rarely effective. If the viewer imagines Hawk as he was in the early eighties and imagines the movie is something on TCM, “Parental Guidance” is kind of fun. Endearing fun. Old-fashioned fun.