Simply looking at the Parental Guidance poster and one could tell that Billy Crystal is hoping for a Meet the Parents-type franchise with Parental Guidance. And who could blame him? All the elements are there with two comically gifted leads portraying grandparents (Crystal and Bette Midler) and an onscreen daughter in Marisa Tomei who can play both straight and silly with the material she's given. Then, there are the three young kids who could not be more talented and prove that old adage of "don't work with child actors" not to be the case with this movie.
It's hard to believe that Crystal and Midler have known each other for decades and have never worked together. Witnessing the two of them, it's easy to get a feel that is rarely felt on screen, and that is of classic Vaudeville. The two even do a perfect harmony version of Book of Love to enthrall the kids. It is a scene that permeates with joy all the way to the back of the theater. But, our Parental Guidance review has to state that their chemistry alone does not build a funny film. Thankfully, there is more to this tale.
The story, teased in the Parental Guidance trailer, is pure variation on a theme. Tomei's parents aren't the best with children and she and her husband (Tom Everett Scott) are hesitant to leave their three kids with them in their Atlanta house while they go off to accept a professional award he's won. It's the irresponsible babysitter story, with the sitter replaced by a pair of loving, yet inept grandparents. But you know what... it's warm, loving and never strays into comedic stereotypes. In fact, on many occasions it rebuffs them.
Director Andy Fickman is in his element directing and getting the most out of his kiddie cast. Each child has a storyline that allows for a real emotional arc that in lesser child actors, could be a challenge. Fickman, who first showed that talent in The Game Plan, also does his part to ensure this is not a run-of-the-mill family comedy.
Crystal's Artie has a lifelong dream of calling baseball games for the San Francisco Giants. He gets as far as their minor league club before being "forced" into retirement. He and Midler see this visit with the grandchildren as an opportunity to not only make right by their grandchildren, but to their daughter who had to grow up going from town to town with dad's dream.
There are sight gags galore, lessons to be learned and for families in search of a perfect holiday film, they could do worse than Parental Guidance. It literally has something for kids, parents and grandparents. Sure, it's not for everyone, but it squarely knows its market.