For as much as Hollywood loves trying to reboot all of its properties with a edgier, savvier turn, there’s a definite trend of releasing good ol’ family comedies around Christmas to a lot of success (and I use the word “good” very lightly). We’re talking about artless movies like Cheaper By The Dozen, Bedtime Stories, and the remarkable Alvin and the Chipmunks features.
This tradition is passed along to 2012 with Parental Guidance, produced by family content factory Walden Media. It’s a perfect storm of silly kid humor filtered through a safe consortium of parents to make sure nothing of flavor seeps in.
This one stars Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as “the other grandparents” – on the other side of the country, they rarely see their daughter Alice (Marisa Tomei)’s kids. When circumstance provides an opportunity for Crystal and Midler to watch the grandkids for a week, you wouldn’t believe the antics that develop!
At this point, we alternate between two kinds of scenes: ones where the grandkids are exaggerated little monsters, and other ones where Crystal is all like “Kids these days!” It’s a battle between the ways of today and the ways of yore. Who will emerge the winner? How much blood will be spilt? How will the losing side be expected to pay reparations in the face of staggering defeat? Can the “nuclear option” still truly on the table in the 21st Century?
Parental Guidance is a cash-in from every perspective, right down to the musical sequence that feels like it was added during Bette Midler’s contract negotiations. Aside from a few moments where Crystal is allowed to spit out one-liners at no one in particular, it’s hardly redeemable as a cinematic work.
But I find it hard to put down a movie like Parental Guidance. I was a camp counselor while I was in school, and every time I let the grade schoolers I watched vote for a movie, Cheaper by the Dozen was a perennial favorite. Parental Guidance doesn’t have the fortune of having Steve Martin at the helm, but they’re practically identical films – vanilla to their cores, cameras left on auto, kids acting like fooldevils, adults that just want to have a happy family. And of course they’re both terrible.
But every summer for three years, the kids went crazy for Cheaper By the Dozen, even when I tried to convince a bunch of eleven-year-old boys that we should totally watch Batman instead. (When it became clear I wouldn’t be able to get the votes I needed, I took the option off the table and just played Batman Begins without anyone’s consent.)
Then I think about how when I was a kid, Mrs. Doubtfire was the veritable shit. Revisiting it as a big, responsible adult, I see that it’s not all that different from Cheaper by the Dozen and Parental Guidance – now I realize it’s just normal shit. Warm gooey movies for families sold by comedy superstars of yesteryear.
I’m not saying any of that validates Parental Guidance, which is still not good at all. It just makes me apathetic about the whole process. What’s the point of talking about how stilted Parental Guidance is when I know soccer moms across the country are going to cart their families to the AMC to see it over holiday break and walk away thinking they just learned life lessons?