Parental Guidance: Rated “PG“ (120 Minutes)
Starring: Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott, Bailee Madison
Directed by: Andy Fickman
We once knew a guy (older than us) who made a very funny generational observation, “Kids today are told to turn off the TV and read a book. When I was young I was told to put down my book and go outside and play.” Needless to say, there will always be these kinds of generational shifts in what kids should be doing and how they should best be handled. The truth of the matter is that none of them come with instructional materials, and for all intents and purposes all parents are on their own, and no matter how you choose to raise your kids — as parents — we will always be second-guessing ourselves.
That said, this generational shift in parenting methodologies is put on comedic display as Alice and Phil Simmons (Tomei and Scott) who are a world-class pair of Type-A helicopter parents. Only now, Phil is up for an award and they need to leave town so he can collect his well-deserved kudos, and they can get away for a much-needed vacation. So they tap Alice’s folks Artie and Diane (Crystal and Midler) to look after the three kids while they are away. However, problems arise when the kids’ 21st century behaviors collide with Artie and Diane’s old-school, 20st century parenting methods (the afore-mention generational shift in parenting methodology).
Artie, who has just been given the bozack from his gig as a radio announcer for a minor-league baseball team (a job he has held for various teams for some three decades) is accustomed to calling the shots. However, he has really come up against it when he and his eager-to-finally-connect-with-her-grandchildren wife agree to the babysitting gig. Only there is old helicopter mom who can’t quite seem to let go, and finagles a way to stay behind to “work” on a “last minute” project from a client. Further complicating this task is the new-age methodology employed by Alice and Phil on their kids.
This practice involves little league with no outs, no score and games that always end in a tie, speech therapy class that doesn’t require the kids to speak, no sugar, no MSG, wholesome, organically-grown macro-biotic, tofu-infused food, never saying “no” to the kids, never denying them anything but always asking them “to consider the consequences” of their actions and above all, absolutely no negative physical contact (e.g. no hitting, no spanking). Oh, and the youngest (Barker; Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) has an invisible friend — a kangaroo named Carl, the oldest (Harper; Madison) is something of a prodigy on the violin (an instrument she has come to hate), and the middle one (Turner; Joshua Rush) has a severe stuttering problems as well as self-esteem issues. So, as you can well imagine, Artie and Diane’s old school methods of tough rules, lots of love, and old-fashioned common sense pose something of a learning curve for both grandparents and kids (not to mention the parents themselves). So the comedy comes into play when everyone learns to holding their own ground while learning to bend just a bit, ultimately becoming the family together that grows together.
Sure, it is a predictable outcome, but who cares, it is still fun watching Crystal and Midler go through their comedic paces, and yeah, if the kids never learn conflict and failure, they will be ill-prepared to greet the real world outside the confines of their parent’s “helicopter” rescue patterns. This should perhaps be watched on a double-bill with the equally funny The Guilt Trip.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web.