- Character Development
When I went to see Parental Guidance, I must admit my expectations weren’t high. It looked like the sort of movie where you can tell from just looking at the poster how it was going to end. Unfortunately, I wasn’t wrong. With a few exceptions, it’s just what it looks like — well-intentioned but uncool grandparents trying to impress their grand-kids. The brats themselves, who are supposed to look charmingly annoying but really just look annoying. The paranoid uptight parents. No surprises going to be happening in this movie.
But perhaps I’m already starting off a bit overly-pessimistic. There were some touches of originality and emotion that I hadn’t expected, though not nearly enough to redeem it as a whole. Here’s the rundown:
The grandparents are Artie Decker (Billy Crystal) and Diane Decker (Bette Midler) and they’re sick of being the “other” grandparents to their estranged daughter’s kids. You know the ones — the grandparents you don’t invite for Thanksgivings, the ones who aren’t in the family photos on the mantelpiece, the ones the parents have to remind their kids to be nice to. Artie and Diane are painfully aware of their “other” title and want to do anything to change it. When their daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei) and son-in-law Phil (Tom Everett Scott) are going out of town and can’t find a babysitter, the Deckers seize the opportunity to become closer to their grand-kids. As the Decker’s parenting style is pretty lax and their daughter’s parenting style is uber-strict, conflict ensues.
Sparks of Originality
Even though we’ve all seen the overall plot about a million gazillion times, there were a couple of quirks that added some interest. Although they laid it on pretty thick with showing the extreme politically-correct parenting style (“We don’t say ‘you can’t do that,’ we say ‘consider the cosequences’) there were elements that made the family a little more believable — and in turn, a little more likable.
For instance, it’s usually the parent who pushes the kid to choose an instrument and practice practice practice. That’s what I expected when I saw that 12-year-old Harper (Bailee Madison) constantly had a violin in her hands. Then we learn that her mother really wishes she’d put it down once in a while and have some fun. The one putting all the pressure on the kid is the kid herself, which adds a whole new dimension to her character and also shows that Alice doesn’t let her parenting style get in the way of what’s best for her daughter.
I also like that there’s not too much animosity between everyone. For the most part, everyone really really wants to get along and it’s not the usual hate-fest you see in movies similar to this. Alice is stressed out and tightly-wound in an emotionally charged way, not a bitchy way. There’s some sentimental moments that are actually really well-done and not overly sappy. For instance, Artie was a broadcaster for a little league team and ended every game with “And that’s lights out, Alice!” We learn that his job made him unable to tuck in Alice at night, but she could hear him over the radio. “Lights out, Alice!” was his way of telling her it was bedtime — and he still ends all the games he broadcasts with that phrase. There’s a lot of little things like that that make the overall movie come across as a little more genuine.
Bailee Madison as Harper
This girl is going places. Madison is 13 years old, adorable, and very talented. She had her first film role (Rainelle Downing in 2006′s Lonely Hearts) when she was just seven and is most known for her role as May Belle in 2007′s Bridge to Terabithia, for which she won a Young Artist Award. In Parental Guidance, I can say without a doubt that her performance was the best. Also that girl can play the violin like nobody’s business.
Madison’s completely on-point with every emotion — whether it’s ravage glee at trying cake for the first time, excitement at trying on a pretty dress, or near-tears frustration at her violin teacher, this girl rocked.
Disconnected Plot Elements
There were some things that were interesting on their own but didn’t quite click well with the story. Artie lost his job as a sports announcer and wants to hide that fact from his daughter. Which is mildly interesting and adds a touch of depth to it, but the director doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. It’s just sort of…. there. Also we have Alice’s relationship with her husband, Phil. For most of their vacation, Alice actually finds excuses to stay home so as not to leave the kids with her grandparents. This causes strain between her and Phil because he feels pretty abandoned. Again, it’s interesting tension but detracts from the overall plot. Parental Guidance has a bad habit of putting in scenes that are just interesting enough to pique the audience’s interest but aren’t explored enough to satisfy that interest.
You know those genuine emotional moments I commented on in the “Good” section? And all the nuances of Bailee Madison’s role? And the fun family quirks? Unfortunately all those good things are covered in a mountain of inexcusably bad jokes. To find the real moments, you have to brush away gross bodily humor, unrealistically extreme scenarios, and childish behavior that’s meant to be funny but comes off as annoying and/or disturbing. This is a movie that’s afraid to be serious. It’s like the naturally beautiful high school girl who covers herself with ill-applied makeup in a depressing and backfired attempt to make herself appealing.
Someone, somewhere decided that all stressed-out families needed to have at least three kids. But seriously, Alice and Phil should’ve stopped at two. They youngest, Barker (played by Kyle Harrison Breitkopf — a mouthful of a name for a little kid) is meant to come off as the weird little kid you can’t help but love. He’s vulgar, annoying, loud, and in-the-way. The whole concept of “but still he’s lovable!” gets lost. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if you want a good method of birth control just put someone in the room with this kid for ten minutes and they’ll be sworn off kids forever.
The Forced Happy Ending
Warning: Contains Spoilers!
I don’t have a problem with happy endings. I just have a problem with unrealistic happy endings. I can understand a family epiphany of “Oh! We need to work on this!” I can understand the strict mother finally letting her daughter go to a party, or a breakthrough father-daughter bonding moment. It’s the complete 180 turn that I hate.
I’m speaking specifically of middle child Turner (Joshua Rush), and his stutter. He’s a really cool kid — is good at baseball, has lots of hobbies — but, as his mother puts it, “it’s all hidden behind that stutter.” The audience’s heart went out to him every time he talked and we all eagerly awaited some improvement — him standing up to a bully, or him realizing he’s more than just his impediment, or something.
But him flawlessly reciting a good five minutes of monologue on a stage in front of an audience after being unable to say so much as a “pass the salt” in the prior scene? Give me a break. Coming from someone who was pretty much incoherent throughout middle school and most of high school (and still flinches when it comes to enunciating words like “rewind” or, god forbid, “rural”), speech impediments just don’t work that way. No disability does. There is no one magic breakthrough, no quick fix, and the movie would be so much better if it didn’t pretend there was. If he got a new therapist who wasn’t a New Age idiot, or if we saw him slowly make progress, or if we knew he was practicing this speech he was giving — then I would be ok with it. Sudden magical transformation? Not so much.
Overall: 2 stars out of 5
This movie isn’t worth the ticket price, probably isn’t even worth the price of renting it. There’s a couple of moments of originality and fun, but for the most part it’s cliche predictable drivel with a thick layer of childish jokes. There are too many good movies out right now (check out our Hobbit review here, our Lincoln review here, and our Rise of the Guardians review here – now those are worth a see!) to waste your time on this one.
‘Parental Guidence’ Trailer