‘Guidance’ is mostly schmaltz
Sentimental stuff works but the comedy is tepid, predictable.
The family-friendliest movie comedy this holiday season is also the sappiest and schmaltziest. And thanks to Billy Crystal, the shtickiest.
“Parental Guidance” is a mild-mannered riff on parenting, then-and-now. It contrasts the top-down/careerfirst mentality of one generation with the coddled “nurturing” of today, but never takes a stand on which is better.
Basically, it’s a vehicle for Billy Crystal, and to a lesser degree Bette Midler, to riff on the spoiled, overindulged and sometimes uptight kids their kid is raising.
Artie (Crystal) is a minorleague baseball announcer who never got to his dream job, covering San Francisco Giants games. He’s content to make homespun wisecracks in front of the mike for the Fresno Grizzlies. Until they lay him off for not being social media savvy.
“I’ll tweet! I’ll make whatever noise you want!”
His retired “weather girl” wife Diane interrupts her pole-dance aerobics class to comfort him and listen to his lies about how young he “feels.”
Daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei) is a Web designer in Atlanta with husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott) in the totally computerized house Phil designed.
Their kids — 12-8-5 — have play dates, ballgames and rehearsals. Violinist daughter Harper (Bailee Madison) would discover boys, if she weren’t stressing over a big audition that sets up her Berlin Philharmonic life plan. Turner ( Joshua Rush) is a bullied stammerer whose little league doesn’t keep score, denying him the chance to excel at anything. And Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf ) is a mop-topped terror with an imaginary kangaroo friend.
Into this world come “the other grandparents,” the West Coast couple that never sees them because Artie has been all about the job all his life. They’re not the first choice, but Phil and Alice have a get-away planned — if only Alice can let go.
Whatever Artie and Diane did with Alice isn’t good enough for Alice’s kids. She takes their finicky dinner orders, by text. The kids aren’t allowed sugar, are ferried hither and yon to appointments — touchyfeely speech therapy for Turner, violin lessons from a Russian “Tiger Mom” for Harper. Tofu mom Alice never lets them hear the word “No.”
Crystal delivers tepidly caustic rants, Midler invokes the occasional inappropriate life lesson, and Tomei struggles to find anything fun about her smothering mother. The laughs are, to use the old-fashioned term, telegraphed. A Billy and Bette duet of “Who Wrote the Book of Love” is cute, but the setup is sluggish.
At least the sentimental stuff works. And the toilet jokes. Rating: PG forrude humor. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Theaters: Barton Creek, Cinemark Stone Hill, City Lights, Galaxy Moviehouse, Lakeline, Starplex, Tinseltown South, West gate.
Billy Crystal realizes his grandson Kyle Harrison Breitkapf had a tad too much sugar.