I’m going to go against the grain and admit that I found Parental Guidance, the family comedy starring Billy Crystal and Bette Midler that opened last year on Christmas Day, to be moderately entertaining. It’s the kind of middle-of-the-road crowd pleaser that’s easy to pick apart, which is exactly what many critics did. Yes, it’s predictable. Sure, there’s a bunch of cheap bathroom humor (Crystal actually sings a song about feces to his constipated grandson while sitting with him in a public restroom stall). And, despite a constant string of references to modern technology, it’s definitely old-fashioned. Maybe I was just in the mood for something I didn’t have to think much about, but I found myself laughing a fair amount.
What more could I really hope for than that? I suspect director Andy Fickman and screenwriters Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse were never under any illusion they were making high art. Though not a runaway hit, Guidance wound up grossing $119 million worldwide (it’s reported budget was $25 million) so it’s unlikely I’m the only one who enjoyed it as something of a guilty pleasure. Crystal and Midler play Artie and Diane Decker, parents to Alice Simmons (Marisa Tomei). Alice and her husband Phil (Tom Everett Scott) are devoted to their three kids, but their parenting style (refusing to use words like “no” or “don’t”) is at odds with the old school methods endorsed by Artie.
The senior Deckers have largely fallen out of touch with their daughter and her family when they’re called upon to babysit while Alice and Phil are out of town. Typical generation gap gags ensue, dominating the film practically from start to finish. No prize for figuring out well in advance whether or not the Deckers will eventually win over their grandkids. Plot twists aren’t the focus here. The fun lies in watching old pro Crystal, of whom we’ve seen precious little in recent years, tossing off one-liners with ease. There’s nothing even remotely groundbreaking here. You may find yourself struggling to even remember what you were laughing at just hours after watching, but it goes down smoothly and painlessly.
A few complications are thrown in to jazz up the plot. Right before heading out to spend time with the grandkids, Artie loses his beloved job as play-by-play announcer for a minor league baseball team. He discovers that Alice is doing contract work for ESPN, who just so happens to be auditioning announcers for the X Games. In the midst of trying to bond with Harper (Bailee Madison), Turner (Joshua Rush), and Barker (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), Artie succeeds in securing an audition through surreptitious means. This, of course, leads to disaster, but that’s par for the course throughout Guidance. The Deckers even manage to help fatally wound Barker’s (the youngest of the Simmons kids) imaginary friend.
Parental Guidance looks absolutely fine on Blu-ray with a 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer framed at 1.85:1. Family-oriented comedies produced on a modest budget need not look better than this. There’s sufficient fine detail on display. Colors are vividly realistic. It’s not going to turn heads, but it gets the job done. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is similarly workmanlike, but absolutely fitting for this type of film. Dialogue is all-important in Guidance and no one is difficult to understand. Marc Shaiman’s score (effective, if a tad generic) is never overly prominent.
The best supplement, by far, is the commentary track by director Andy Fickman and star/producer Billy Crystal. I hoped that Crystal would crack a lot of jokes and that’s exactly what he and Fickman do. Anyone who enjoys Crystal’s brand of comedy is sure to enjoy it. A bunch of deleted scenes amounts to about 13 minutes of footage, with optional Fickman commentary. There’s a typical gag reel, though this one runs an unusually lengthy 12 minutes or so. An “In Character” featurette from FX Movie Channel runs about five minutes and is strictly a promotional piece.
It may not be especially creative, but Parental Guidance is the type of film that spreads out across its viewers like a comfortably worn blanket. Were it not for the running gags involving a “smart house” prototype that Alice’s husband is trying to market, it could’ve been released 20 years ago with almost no alterations. The cast seems to be enjoying themselves and a little of it rubbed off on me, which surprised me because I’m usually pretty curmudgeonly. I totally understand why so many people have little tolerance for sentimental, touchy-feely comedies, but when they’re executed with a modicum of charm they can serve as decent time-passers. Call me crazy, but that’s just what I found Parental Guidance to be.