Grandmother knows best in ‘Parental Guidance’, an intergenerational comedy of bad manners and frayed tempers, which welcomes Bette Midler back to the big screen after a four-year hiatus.
The Oscar-nominated actress and singer is the jewel in the tarnished crown of Andy Fickman’s film, armed to her polished teeth with many of the script’s best lines.
She looks resplendent in soft lighting, bridging most of the 19-year age gap to on-screen daughter Marisa Tomei, and also belts out an impromptu rendition of ‘The Book Of Love’ by The Monotones with co-star Billy Crystal.
The central clash between old-fashioned ideals and 21st century desires has been portrayed in countless other comedies, and more deftly than scriptwriters Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse manage here.
They are suckers for mawkish sentimentality and foolishly burden each of the protagonists with an insecurity or quirk that needs to be salved by the end credits. Thus one child has a stutter and another is dependent on an imaginary kangaroo called Carl.
Artie Decker (Billy Crystal) and his wife Diane (Midler) are childhood sweethearts who have been married for more than 40 years.
They are free from the responsibility of raising children: Artie is a baseball commentator for his local team while Diane keeps in shape by pole-dancing with her gal pals.
Poor Artie is crestfallen when the new owners of the team sack him from the commentary booth to inject fresh blood into the club.
Soon after, the couple’s daughter, Alice (Marisa Tomei), telephones to ask Artie and Diane to babysit their three grandchildren – Harper (Bailee Madison), Turner (Joshua Rush) and Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) – while Alice accompanies her husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott) on an important business trip.
Diane readily accepts, thrilled at the prospect of spending more time with the little ones.
The grandparents do not know how to relate to Harper, Turner and Barker and their modern fads.
In desperation, Artie resorts to old-fashioned parenting techniques to give the kids the support they need, but his heartfelt efforts don’t always reap the intended rewards, including an unfortunate incident with professional skateboarder Tony Hawk on the half-pipe.
Crystal and Midler are a formidable double act but the script doesn’t always serve them well.
Their characters’ mishaps often seem forced but they share pleasing on-screen chemistry, which is more than can be said for Tomei and Scott.
Madison impresses in her emotionally touching scenes and there are a couple of moments when scriptwriters Addario and Syracuse pluck our heartstrings and coax a lump to our throats.
But sweetness is invariably followed by silliness and we stop caring well before the 105 minutes are up, because it’s clear these characters are destined for happiness for an epiphany that leads to one place: impossibly happy families.
Star Rating: 2/5