This fresh holiday film (referring only to the time it was released, not the content) is anything but fresh, if you're a fellow nineties-nostalgic. If you are, however, living among the present, as many surely are, this will be rather unconventional for a family film. Lately, the genre "family film" has all but expired in a fast-paced, cynical realm of cinematic reality and drama. If there happens to be a family in the plot, some form of dysfunction is present, making it an expected dramatic film of the late two-thousands. Every once in a while, the public, I believe, needs that wholesome mildness in films like Parental Guidance to inspire feelings of comfort and sanguinity. (Well, maybe not sanguinity. Serenity?) Like the saccharine quality found in nineties pictures--nothing similar comes to mind at the moment other than Meet the Fockers, which is past the nineties era--the amusement factor in Parental Guidance not once fails to please the audience. If that audience, evidently, consists of my dad and I. For the sake of this post, I'll just emphasize the overall idea and sentiment this movie surely does garner.
The film begins with Artie Decker (played by that familiar, lovable Billy Crystal) as he undergoes a personal crisis when he loses his comfortable job commentating baseball games. Fraught with anxiety over what to do next, his wife Diane (played by that lovable, familiar Bette Midler) suggests that they visit their only daughter and three grandchildren for the week. Conveniently, their daughter, Alice (played by the still-stunning Marisa Tomei), actually needs them to babysit her kids for the week as she joins her husband at some conference. (I wonder what type of conferences involve drinking and playing tennis. Just a wandering tangent of thought for those who have seen the movie.) Strangely, Alice seems exceedingly reluctant to have her parents stay with her kids, a predicament that is not supported by their extended absence. They may have been negligent in their roles as grandparents, but shouldn't their appearance now harbor some hope and reassurance? Either way, the hijinks that is traditional grandparents watching over the grandkids commences, pleasingly enough, almost immediately. There is no dragging period of nonsense or useless introductions, such as in the also recent Playing For Keeps. For those suspicious of this film's value, take consolation in knowing that there are no pointless scenes that are a waste of your precious time--everything in Parental Guidance suits its purpose to entertain. As for the entertainment, there is plenty to be had. Whether you enjoy physical humor that reaches an ideal point of remaining funny (as opposed to the excessive bodily humor of Adam Sandler or Kevin James); or you admire the classic wit of Billy Crystal or the bewitching flair of Bette Midler; or a scene of uncomplicated affection is more than welcome for you and your fellow viewers, then by all means enjoy this confection of nostalgia. Did I mention that this very much resembles a lovely nineties/early two-thousands movie?
|Granted it is a childish scene, the depiction of new-age parenting is hauntingly accurate.|
The overall theme of the movie is a battle between old-school and new-age parenting. The verdict? Traditionalist teachings clearly surpasses the hands-off, be-who-you-want-to-be mindset of this new generation of ours. This defeat may explain the poor reviews, as asinine and frivolous as it may be in theory. Most of the critics are one of these "new-age" parents, most likely, and they feel guilty that their techniques are potential failures. Cruel accusation, true, but is it that outrageous? Those who shake their heads aggressively at the screen, do not despair, for the first step in improvement is accepting your state of denial. Boy, what a head on me. Regarding the movie, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler represent the traditional parents: They believe in discipline, strict yet fair doctrines, and good 'ol wholesome fun. (Fittingly, that is the overtone of the entire movie, pleasantly enough.) Their guidelines prove to be cataclysmic initially, since the new-age children are not accustomed to such hands-on treatment, but in the end they will benefit the kids in life. Marisa Tomei and her husband, who shall not be named, represent the new-age parents: They believe in allowing the kids to express themselves freely, even if it means outright inappropriate behavior, and to just let them be alone in their "unique and special minds". No, no, no, this is not parenting. In fact, this is a lack of parenting, for the term implies actually teaching and being involved in the lives of these youths. Letting them do whatever they so please will only result in unruly delinquents and a tense household. Catastrophic household, actually. Luckily, the traditionalists arrive to fulfill their own desires of grand-parenting, as well as improve the temperament of their daughter's domestic existence. By the final scene, the whole family is submerged in a blissful aura of, well, happiness. It's a double-statement, but emphasizes the outcome. This applies not only to the on-screen family but also to those at home watching the movie. A surprising delight in lines of cinema, Parental Guidance appears to the masses as a film with real joys and heart for the entire family to take pleasure in.
I am aware of the rotten reception this film has received, bombarded with nasty comments such as it being a "blow to the brain for moviegoers", though it is all very expected of this generation. Interestingly enough, I do not consider myself among this new generation of anti-sentimentalism and excessively harsh cynicism, even though my birthday suggests otherwise. What falters in each of those horrid reviews is the lack of, shall we say, imagination? Perhaps if the critics stepped outside of their pseudo-intellectual shells and actually watched a movie in the frame of mind that the film is inclined towards (i.e. innocent, warm simplicity), they would enjoy the substance rather than scowl at the sappy predictability. Seriously, when your guard is down and the bitter sarcasm fades, a sweet-as-pie picture is just sweet with no need to read in between the lines. This is not Argo or Zero Dark Thirty where the entertainment emerges from intellectual intrigue and suspense. Parental Guidance is an adorable picture that will just make you warm and serene inside--no deeper analysis required.