Parental Guidance Review
Sometimes — okay, more than sometimes — movies are nothing but products designed to fill a market niche. Numbers are crunched and it’s decided that a PG-rated family film for Christmas is needed. A screenwriter, a director and one or two older stars are hired to deliver a product built to specifications. The film will be about nothing anyone really cares about, its script written toward the stars’ contract demands (or else an existing script will be hollowed out like a decorative gourd, all traces of life removed), with an aim toward something that most test audiences would recognize as warm and nearly comedic. What gets shot will be reactionary yet nonsensical enough to deflect attention from its inherent regressive and thoughtless nature. It’ll be sold to multigenerational families so that on December 26th there’ll be something for everyone to do together that doesn’t involve three hours spent watching an extremely violent, historically revisionist western set during the time of slavery, three hours spent with grimy, unhappy, singing French people who die, or three hours spent hunting down Osama bin Laden.
This is what they came up with for fourth quarter, 2012. It’s very bad.
It stars Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as the narcissistic grandparents possessed of good-old-fashioned common sense instead of fancy book learnin’. It co-stars Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott as the parents who bring up their children differently (sorry, I spelled that wrong, I meant to write s-t-u-p-i-d-l-y) than the way they were raised. The latter two are identified as affected and idiotic because they don’t give their kids sugar and also because they try to teach them reasonable responses to problems. But according to all child-rearing experts named Billy Crystal this kind of stuff is a waste of time.
Grandma and Grandpa arrive, therefore, to shake things up. They help the oldest daughter (Bailee Madison) reject the need to practice her violin by chewing out the demanding music teacher and buying the child a sparkly dress. They correct the middle kid’s (Joshua Rush) stutter by ignoring his speech therapist and giving him an iPod stocked with baseball announcer play-by-plays. They create obedience in the wildest and most obnoxious younger son (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) by paying him off with cash. By the end of their visit the kids are mainlining ice cream cakes and they’ve got Marisa Tomei apologizing for everything, including her own vague resentment of Crystal and Midler’s parenting style. The movie thinks this is great.
People with brains they can’t turn on and off for 90 minute stretches of holiday family togetherness will be driven to take some kind of painkiller before the final credits roll. Everyone else will be fine. It’s not smart enough to hate with any sort of enthusiasm. It’s also too weightless to worry about and too pointless to merit diving into its ignorance and inconsistencies. Nothing rational is proposed and nothing rational achieved, defying any sort of attempt to place it in a context that might be recognized as human.
So save yourself if you can. And if you can’t, just be grateful that it’s short.
By Dave White